Lebron James: A Free Agent Slave Who Bucked on His Master
By Fahim A. Knight-El
When a person thinks of slavery, they often do not equate or classify multimillionaires as slaves because we have fallaciously equated money with being the highest extension of freedom and don’t realize that wealth is not a variable that is independent of itself and it is a dependent variable upon those who possess the power to give value to monetary instruments. They dispense wealth with a chain and ball called debt and in a credit based system it was designed to have masters and slaves. It’s not just black athletes that are slaves, but all of humanity are slaves, the sad phenomenal is that this reality is unbeknown to the masses. Money and wealth are only an allusion—it all leads to modern servitude and lavish plantations such as the National Basketball Association. (Reference: Claud Anderson; “Black Labor, White Wealth : The Search for Power and Economic Justice” ).(Reference: Jim Brown YouTube clip http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S_9O6fOqIys&feature=related).
Wikipedia defines slavery as being: “A system in which people are the property of others. Slaves can be held against their will from the time of their capture, purchase or birth, and deprived of the right to leave, to refuse to work, or to demand wages”. This is the old definition and perception of how most people would view and define slavery and it is from this definition that one could not phantom highly paid black athletes being called slaves by this writer. But fail to acknowledge, that which I have written above is not built on some unintelligible premises. Nevertheless and even if one thought so, it would only cause one to miss the very intricacies of the relationship in which the slave and master paradigm are built upon. (Reference: Claud Anderson; “PowerNomics : The National Plan to Empower Black America). (Reference: Youtube clip: The Ink Spot; Forty Million Dollars Slaves: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_3DBd92NpOY
The sports writer William C. Rhoden in his provocative book titled, “Forty Million Dollars Slaves: The Rise, Fall and Redemption of the Black Athlete” explores this paradoxical notion in the historical and modern context.
Someone has the power and influence to tie your gifts, ability and talents to a monetary instrument of exchange and as long as you fulfilled the terms of agreement and generate money for the corporate owners and stockholders, you would be deemed a positive asset (this sounds like slavery to me). Athletes are considered commodities, which is no different than the system of Chattel slavery—slaves were considered commodities. Wikipedia defined commodity: “were things of value, of uniform quality, that were produced in large quantities by many different producers; the items from each different producer were considered equivalent. On a commodity exchange, it is the underlying standard stated in the contract that defines the commodity, not any quality inherent in a specific producer's product”. (Reference: Wikipedia on line reference resource)
The black athlete is one of the most sort after commodities in the world of sports, in particular basketball. LeBron James ordeal recently stirred a lot of emotions and controversy. James was a high school sensation out of Akron, Ohio that was drafted directly out of high school by the Cleveland Cavaliers—seven years ago in 2003. Some of his pundits felt that this free agent athlete should have demonstrated more loyalty to the Cavaliers’ owner (Master Dan Gilbert) and Cleveland Cavaliers organization after all they gave him his first opportunity to showcase his basketball talents on a world stage. However, there were others on the opposite end of the spectrum who felt that LeBron James had honored his contractual agreement and owed nothing to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Thus, he was free to exercise all of his playing options—the young man in just seven years had become a corporate enterprise—worthy of attention from Madison Avenue.
National Basketball Association Commissioner David Stern declared him an ambassador of the game and where ever he went his presences sold out most of the NBA arenas which he had visited over his seven year career in Cleveland (creating enormous amounts of wealth for the league—he has become an iconic figure). His image was good for marketing and it was good for Cleveland’s bottom line. James probably has generated over a billion dollars in revenue for the Cleveland Cavaliers' organization and the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce, perhaps used his massive marketing image to attract business to this old blue collar town. We probably can not attach a definitive figure to the residual revenue that was generated by LeBron James on the entire economy of Cleveland. However, no slave is supposed to be able to exercise the authority relative to determining who his next master is going to be and what plantation he desires to work on, perhaps in their minds James should not have had the lawful right to make a league altering decision like this one. Yes, the NBA is a glorified plantation and although the players are making millions of dollars and live what is considered privileged life styles, but they are still considered wage earners and employees. (Reference: Jim Brown: YouTube Clip http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jDnZ9Jaid0w&feature=related
Most black athletes have never been taught the knowledge of self and do not know
how important it is to do for-self. For example, owning their selves as corporate enterprises and entities; moreover everyone else capitalizes off their fame and wealth other than the African American community. They are often overtaken by the “bling-bling” and trinkets (fools gold)—automobiles, jewelry, clothes, etc., with little understanding of investment debt and often swayed by the temptations of consumer debt, which becomes their pursuits, although, there is no chain and ball around their hands and feet, the chains are around their minds and this is the worst form of slavery—psychological slavery. The owners and agents continues to live high quality life styles long after their clients (slaves) retire. The Honorable Elijah Muhammad once stated that there were three things that the white man did not teach us—the science of business, science of mating and the science of warfare. (Reference: Minister Louis Farrakhan: Youtube clip http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xhibl0OMC7I)
Black America had a Gross National Product (GNP) of over 900 Billion dollars last year, which would make us as having the twelfth largest economy in the world, if we were considered a sovereign people. But sense we have not been taught the science of business, it has relegated us to a history of being consumers and non-producers. The black dollar don’t even circulate around the black economy one time before it leaves out. Thus, 94% of the black dollar is spent outside of our community and only a measly 6 % percent remains at our disposal. So in one instance, it becomes unfair to hold the black athlete and entertainer to a higher standard and not critique so-called black leadership and our business leaders for our dismal economic predicament (none of us should escape blame).
William C. Rhoden in his monumental book titled, “Forty Million Dollars Slaves: The Rise, Fall and Redemption of the Black Athlete” stated: “The challenge of the first part of the twenty-first century is how to convert all of our accumulated wealth and presences into power. In the twenty-first century, ‘winning’ for African Americans in the field of sport and play, from athletes and agents to journalist and executives, means extending the reach of power beyond the courts, fields, and diamonds. Winning means ownership: owning teams, owning networks, owning the means of communication, and owning our collective image. The challenge for African American athletes in the twenty-first century, with unprecedented resources at their disposal, is building on the foundation, expanding, and—most difficult of all—working as a team to create a new promise land.” (Reference: William C. Rhoden; “Forty Million Dollars Slaves: The Rise, Fall and Redemption of the Black Athlete”; p. 267).
Perhaps the black athletes only sees other races and nationality servicing our communities; the Koreans, Chinese, Arabs, Jews, Latinos, etc., and they take this as the norm and go out and hire Jewish agents as their representatives while the black professionals suffer. This writer has recently read stories about black athletes who have gone broke financially such as Scotty Pippen (Michael Jordan’s sidekick earned an estimated 120 million dollar), Antwan Walker (earned an estimated 110 million dollars), Kenny Anderson (earned an estimated 60 million dollars,) Ray Williams (earned an estimated 2 million dollars), Isaiah JR Rider, Derrick Coleman (earned an estimated 87 million dollars), Latrell Sprewell (earned an estimated 50 million dollars), etc., all of the above have filed bankruptcy due to poor financial management. (Reference: Steven Silbiger; “The Jewish Phenomenon: Seven Keys to the Enduring Wealth of a People”).
There is a statistic which states that over 60% of athletes are broke after five years of retirement. Remember the old axiom that a fool and his money shall soon part. Many of these black athletes had all white financial advisors and put more trust in their ex-slave master’s children more so than using their wealth and resources to build and uplift the black community. This is inexcusable and creates continued cycles of poverty in black community. Many of them fail to understand the importance of beginning the idea of generational wealth building and passing wealth along as opposed to every generation starting with nothing but debt and misery.
Perhaps this is entirely too much to lay at the doorstep of a 25 year old athlete like LeBron James or any other young black millionaire athlete—to carry the burden of the race and yet I found compelled to place some of this burden squarely on their shoulders because they are by products of the black experience vis-a-vie the greatness and all that is good and the frailties and degradation, which encompasses the black experience. This is who we are and our new found wealth should not separate what is culturally intrinsic and inherently the black experience. Reverend Jeremiah Wright did a lecture in the early 1990s titled, “We Need Each Other” what a profound statement.
This is what Dan Gilbert majority owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers stated about LeBron James departure: “You simply don't deserve this kind of cowardly betrayal. You have given so much and deserve so much more. In the meantime, I want to make one statement to you tonight: ‘I personally guarantee that the Cleveland Cavaliers will win an NBA Championship before the self-titled former 'king' wins one." You can take it to the bank.”
“If you thought we were motivated before tonight to bring the hardware to Cleveland, I can tell you that this shameful display of selfishness and betrayal by one of our very own has shifted our ‘motivation’ to previously unknown and previously never experienced levels.”
“Some people think they should go to heaven but NOT have to die to get there.
Sorry, but that's simply not how it works. This shocking act of disloyalty from our homegrown "chosen one" sends the exact opposite lesson of what we would want our children to learn. And "who" we would want them to grow up to become.”
“But the good news is that this heartless and callous action can only serve as the antidote to the so-called "curse" on Cleveland, Ohio. The self-declared former "King" will be taking the "curse" with him down south. And until he does "right" by Cleveland and Ohio, James (and the town where he plays) will unfortunately own this dreaded spell and bad karma.”
Dan Gilbert could make these outrageous statements because as great as an athlete that LeBron James is, he was paid for his physicality and raw athletic skills and talents to run and jump, but not to make intelligent business decisions and definitely was not paid to think. Gilbert diatribe was only a reminder that indeed it was a master to slave relationship and his statements were designed to support and reinforce the integrity of the NBA slave plantation as an institution. The NBA owners epitomize white privilege and class—he was a voice of Elitism and prestige, how dare one of my slaves desire to leave this good master’s plantation? Gilbert perhaps is saying that he took this young poor inner city black kid named LeBron James who possessed superior athletics skills on the basketball court, made him a first round and number one NBA pick and signed him to a multimillion dollar contract as an eighteen year old boy. Also, this opened up avenues for endorsements and other business opportunities for James. Yes it is a typical from rags to riches story and this is not to say that LeBron James had nothing to be grateful for—he should thank God every day for blessing him with tremendous athletic ability and talent. Well! Dan Gilbert for providing him with the plantation to entertain master. (Reference: YouTube clip; Reverend Jesse Jackson critique remarks made by Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert on Lebron James: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BG7dS-zsPLw)
Many of the African American athletes do not understand that they are a lucrative product and their labor is being exploited by external forces; thus, with out this talented black labor pool (power that slaves are never taught how to exercise) there would not be a National Basketball Association. The league is no better than the product it’s able to put on the floor, as well as putting hot butts in arena seats, which is the ultimate objective (a sophisticated supply and demand system).
David Shields in his book titled, “Black Planet: Facing Race During An NBA Season” stated, “What John Edgar Wideman calls ‘our country’s love/hate affair with the black body’ can be seen nowhere more clearly than in the National Basketball Association, which is a photo negative of American race relations: strong young black men have some power, much of the money, and all of the fun. The NBA is a place where, without ever acknowledging it—and because it’s never acknowledged, it’s that much more potent and telling—white fans and black players enact and quietly explode virtually every racial tension in the culture at large. Race, the league’s taboo topic, is the league’s true subject.” (Reference: David Shields; “Black Planet: Facing Race During An NBA Season”; author’s note).
This is what makes them 21st Century slaves because they are comfortable with being the end product—the team owners, executives, agents, lawyers, etc., often do not look like them, but these individuals are the ultimate beneficiary of our gifts and talents. LeBron James' decision was not anything revolutionary as far as breaking the modern day master-slave relationship that exist in professional sports—he just jumped plantations and did nothing to alter the existing paradigm. It is this power dynamic that has rendered extraordinaire wealth to them and crumbs to those who are deemed just a product and commodity.
Charles Barkley and Michael Wilbon teamed up to author a book titled, “Who’s Afraid of a Large Black Man” in which the book represents commentary from various famous personalities; here is what Reverend Jesse Jackson stated about Michael Jordan: “Even Michael Jordan found that out the hard way. He was reminded that if the rules weren’t public he didn’t have the same chance as when they were, when he was playing the game. The criteria weren’t clear for Michael when it came to Abe Pollin deciding who would run his basketball franchise, now was it? He fires him, and when Michael says, ‘I’d like to know why,’ Pollin says, ‘I don’t owe you nothing.’ That’s cold, man. Do you know how cold that was? I mean, this is Michael. He has to be thinking, ‘You owe me nothing? I gave you two years and filled every seat in your building, filled every stadium where your team played for you. I did two years virtually for free.’ Doesn’t get much colder than that. Michael entertained. He made a franchise. But he got run out of there. So the struggle’s not over. . .“Free?
Jackson continues: “We’ve gone from picking cotton balls to picking footballs, basketballs and baseballs. There was nothing really wrong with picking cotton balls, except that we could not grow a textile industry. And there’s nothing wrong with picking footballs, basketballs. And baseballs except that we don’t share in the running of the multibillion dollar industry that is sports, whether it’s ownership or televising the games or working as the athletic director or running the arena or examining the players. Everything beyond the field or the court is an issue, usually a race issue.” (Reference: Charles Barkley and Michael Wilbon; “Who’s Afraid of a Large Black Man”; pp.178-179.).
Yes, Kobe Bryant, Dwayne Wade, LeBron James, etc., make millions of dollars, but it does not rank in comparison to how much money the owners make. They are just high paid slaves who are merely walking billboards for the various corporate interest that continues to exploit their images, names and aura and magnetism as the drawing card for corporate advertisement—athletes in this day and time endorses all manner of products and it has proven to profitable. But they still lack power to leverage their influence beyond these arrangements and therefore their success has to be viewed as token success and will have little impact on altering the collective reality for themselves, their race and the communities from whence they have come.
The plantation represents a symbolic metaphor that is more steeped in a way of thinking that has been shielded and supported by an institution, which has been driven and shaped by race. LeBron James must be applauded for exercising intellect within a capitalist system; meaning capitalism is based on “free enterprise” and he felt that he could profit more by exercising his option and taking his basketball talents and marketing image to South Beach (Miami Heat). This was not disloyalty, the NBA is a business above all else and decisions are made based on interest. What’s fueling this debate is three black top rated NBA “Ballers” decided this action outside of the ear shot’s of master and determined that they would render their services to the same NBA franchise (plantation). But lets be real the true brain thrust behind this savvy move was Pat Riley. How dare these Negroes (Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron James) conspired in joining forces and demonstrating “Black” unity? Slaves during Chattel slavery (1555-1865) were beating and killed for being indifferent to the master’s wishes.
LeBron James did nothing that was outside of the rules other than becoming an indentured servant on another white owner’s plantation. The anger at LeBron James is misguided and I think many of us would have done the same thing, but the hypocrisy is being disguised in disloyalty, he fulfilled his contractual terms with the organization and decided to take his show to another market (no pun intended)—but it is kind of ironic that we are using the same language and vocabulary that defined terms during Chattel Slavery—“Free” agent, market, trading, buying and selling, commodities, product, work, “slave contracts”, money, etc., perhaps by now you get the picture. This tells us, that as much as things have changed, they still remain the same.
Tiger Woods before his adulteress behavior and his sexual innuendos was considered to be a billion dollar athlete. His perception of a squeaky clean life style and image attracted corporate endorsements unlike any other athlete in the annals of time (black or white). But he to was only a billion dollar slave and had no power over the pro golf industry—Woods was only a commodity and product who had no control over his own economic destiny (sometime just take a look around the black athlete—take notice of the vultures around them).
Most of the black professional athletes are comfortable with receiving a pay check—billionaires pay millionaires and trillionaires pay billionaires. Moreover, to challenge this relationship and arrangement have always been outside of the black athlete mental scope and is not likely to take place any time soon because of the lack of a social conscious and unwillingness to sacrifice the crumbs that falls from the rich man’s table.
Lastly, let me say a little bit about Bob Johnson, the former BET mogul who became the first African American majority owner of an NBA franchise, the Charlotte Bobcats. Some could argue that Johnson’s acquisition of the Bobcats at 300 million price tag dollars was groundbreaking for blacks looking to break the NBA glass ceiling and becoming owners over professional sports franchises. This writer applauded Johnson’s fete and accomplishments, but Johnson has very little interest in race and nationality issues. Johnson is a staunch venture capitalist and all that he has ever seen was green. He has always been a business man first and you can not be angry at him for focusing on the bottom line, but yet we can not ignore the fact that he was the recipient of hard fought civil rights battles, which allowed for African Americans to amass that type of wealth and be in position to sit down with the good ole boys and purchase an NBA franchise. Thus as becoming the head master in charge in 2002, he became the first black owner of an NBA franchise, but this hasn’t translated into the power dynamic and pendulum shifting for blacks seeking to own professional sports franchises. (Reference: Roland Martin TV 101 YouTube clip http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EIxLrYN0HSQ).
He also allowed for NBA great Michael Jordan a “House Negro” to acquire the Bobcats franchise and may be in the grand scheme of things blacks may view this move as being something positive (I don’t). This is still a white Elitist and privileged club and only the slaves can equalize the playing field by garnishing their labor and leveraging the best bargaining tool to demand equal access to the various stratagems of wealth. May be we need an all out slave revolt.
Fahim A. Knight-El Chief Researcher for KEEPING IT REAL THINK TANK located in Durham, NC; our mission is to inform African Americans and all people of goodwill, of the pending dangers that lie ahead; as well as decode the symbolism and reinterpreted the hidden meanings behind those who operate as invisible forces, but covertly rules the world. We are of the belief that an enlightened world will be better prepared to throw off the shackles of ignorance and not be willing participants for the slaughter. Our MOTTO is speaking truth to power. Fahim A. Knight-EL can be reached at fahimknight@ yahoo.com.
Stay Awake Until We Meet Again,
Fahim A. Knight-El