Should LeBron James lead the Los Angeles Lakers to the NBA Finals, he’ll be playing basketball in October. However, there’s something even bigger that the Lakers’ star — and some of his friends and colleagues in the sports and entertainment world — are preparing for come November, James announced Wednesday.
James and a collection of black athletes and entertainers are teaming together in a new group geared toward energizing black voters and thwarting voter suppression in cities around the country that could prove critical in the upcoming presidential election.
“Because of everything that’s going on, people are finally starting to listen to us — we feel like we’re finally getting a foot in the door,” James told The New York Times, which reported on the initiative earlier Wednesday. “How long is up to us. We don’t know. But we feel like we’re getting some ears and some attention, and this is the time for us to finally make a difference.”
The nonprofit organization — named More Than a Vote, echoing James’ “more than an athlete” mantra — has a two-pronged mission to not only encourage African Americans to register and vote in November but also expose voter suppression tactics, such as misinformation spread through social media.
More Than a Vote is in its early stages, but it has already identified key states — and major cities within those states — where it hopes to have an impact, a source familiar with the organization told ESPN.
Some of the notable names on board, along with the communities in which they have planned outreach, include Eric Bledsoe (Milwaukee), Draymond Green (Saginaw and East Lansing, Michigan), Trae Young and Alvin Kamara (Atlanta), Udonis Haslem (Miami), Sam Perkins and Stephen Jackson (Houston), Skylar Diggins-Smith (Phoenix) and comedian Kevin Hart (Philadelphia).
ESPN NBA analyst Jalen Rose has also pledged his involvement in his hometown of Detroit, and current WNBA player and ESPN contributor Chiney Ogwumike, as well as ESPN NBA analyst Kendrick Perkins, will join the effort in Houston.
“Yes, we want you to go out and vote, but we’re also going to give you the tutorial,” James told The Times. “We’re going to give you the background of how to vote and what they’re trying to do, the other side, to stop you from voting.”
The More Than a Vote idea was born out of the anger and frustration James felt in the days following the death of George Floyd, a source familiar with the situation told ESPN. Floyd, who was black, was killed while in police custody last month when former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin, who is white, kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes.
As the country fell into a state of unrest, James talked to other athletes, including Jackson, who was a friend of Floyd’s and spoke at rallies in Minnesota following Floyd’s death, and the plan came into focus.
James, 35, first used his voice to bring awareness to social issues affecting black Americans in March 2012, when he and then-teammate Dwyane Wade organized a photo of the entire Miami Heat team wearing hooded sweatshirts, the same style of hoodie that Trayvon Martin was wearing when he was shot and killed by George Zimmerman.
James’ activism grew from there. He has used his social media platforms (he has more than 112 million followers combined on Twitter and Instagram) and interview sessions with NBA reporters to speak out on the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Aavielle Wakefield. His social consciousness and desire for positive change led his charitable organization, the LeBron James Family Foundation, to open the I Promise School in his hometown of Akron, Ohio, in 2018 to provide a specialized education program for at-risk students in his community.
James, alongside longtime friend and business partner Maverick Carter, also launched the multimedia platform “Uninterrupted,” with the hope of illuminating athletes’ stories in order to inspire others.
More Than a Vote plans to direct those athlete voices to a common cause and pair with voting rights organizations already on the ground in an assortment of swing states to amplify the message.
Adam Mendelsohn, a longtime James adviser and former political strategist, and Addisu Demissie, who served as campaign manager for U.S. Senator Cory Booker’s 2020 presidential run and Gavin Newsom’s 2018 gubernatorial campaign in California, are on board with the nonprofit as well.
On the eve of Game 1 of the 2017 NBA Finals, James spoke out against racial inequality in the U.S. after a racial slur was spray painted on the front gate of one of his homes.
“Just shows that racism will always be a part of the world, part of America,” James said. “Hate in America, especially for African Americans, is living every day. It is hidden most days. It is alive every single day. I think back to Emmett Till’s mom and the reason she had an open casket: She wanted to show the world what her son went through in terms of a hate crime in America. No matter how much money you have, how famous you are, how much people admire you, being black in America is tough.”
Till was 14 years old in 1955 when he was beaten, maimed, shot and killed by two white men in Mississippi after it was alleged that the African American teenager whistled at the wife of one of his attackers.
Rose told The Times that Floyd’s death stirred the most support for the black community since Till was lynched some 65 years ago, and More Than a Vote will attempt to direct that awareness to the need to vote, noting the decline in younger black voters in the 2016 presidential election.
“We’re not letting that happen again,” Rose told The Times.
A source close to James told ESPN that More Than a Vote will not solve the problems facing black Americans on its own, but James and the other athletes and entertainers involved believe this is an immediate action they can take that can have significant impact in moving the country in the right direction.