LeBron James wore a black shirt that read “I Can’t Breathe” to warm-ups on Monday, putting him among the ranks of a growing number of athletes who have spoken out against police brutality and in support of the family of Eric Garner.
Garner was killed by a NYPD officer this summer, with video showing Garner shouting “I can’t breathe” several times as an officer held him in a chokehold. The officer, Daniel Pantaleo, was recently cleared by a grand jury, sparking outrage across the United States and leading to wide-scale protests.
Many athletes have joined in the protests, including Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose who first wore the “I Can’t Breathe” shirt in a game on Saturday to support the Garner family.
LeBron James was joined by other members of the Cleveland Cavaliers in wearing the shirt on Monday, but said the issue and the players’ support is bigger than the team.
“It’s not a Cavs thing,” James said before the game. “It’s a worldly thing.”
LeBron James said his gesture was meant more as a way to support the Garner family than to make any political point.
“It’s just for us to make a (statement) to understand what we’re going through as a society,” James said when asked about the T-shirt. “I’ve been quoted over and over about what’s going on as far as it’s more of a notion to the family, more than anything. Obviously, as a society we have to do better. We have to be better for one another. It doesn’t matter what race you are. It’s more of a shout out to the family more than anything, because they’re the ones that should be getting all the energy and effort.”
But LeBron James has become more involved in social causes in recent weeks. He also spoke out about the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was gunned down by police in Cleveland.
The actions have won praise for LeBron James, who has also spoken out against former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Stirling. Former Lakers star Magic Johnson said James was doing a good job of using his position as the NBA’s most popular player to draw attention to these issues.
“LeBron is a great example of doing a wonderful job,” Johnson said. “When this first came out, when you think about everything that he stood up for — the Donald Sterling thing, when that mess happened, just now with these young people being shot down unarmed, he’s been right out front, so I’ve got to give him a lot of credit. If he’s out front being the best player, then the other guys usually follow the best guy.”
LeBron James had given a hint to reporters that he planned to wear the “I Can’t Breathe” shirt in the future. When told about Rose’s shirt, James said he wanted to find one for himself.