When sporting superstars talk about each other, it is usually with an air of reverential respect. However, Lebron James and Swedish soccer superstar Zlatan Ibrahimović have been less than complementary about each other in recent times.
The issues started in an interview with UEFA and Discovery+ in his native Sweden in which Ibrahimović stated that sports stars should not get involved in any form of political activism.
“Do what your good at. Do the category that you do. I play football because I’m the best at playing football, I’m no politician. If I’d been a politician, I would be doing politics,” commented Ibrahimović.
“This is the first mistake famous people do when they become famous and come into a certain status. For me it is better to avoid certain topics and do what you’re best at doing, because otherwise it doesn’t look good.”
James Dismisses Zlatan’s Comments
The comments seem to be aimed at the many different types of Black Lives Matter protests that have swept the world in recent times. LeBron James has been a vocal supporter of just such issues and the NBA legend was quick to bite back at the Swedish star’s comments.
After his L.A Lakers team beat the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday evening, James stated in his post-game interview when asked about the comments.
“I would never shut up about things that are wrong,” he stated.
“I preach about my people and I preach about equality, social injustice, racism, systematic voter suppression, things that go on in our community.”
“There’s no way I would ever just stick to sports, because I understand how powerful this platform and my voice is.”
LeBron Points Out Zlatan Double-Standards
However, LeBron then moved on to attack the Swedish soccer star and accused him of double-standards.
“He’s the guy who said in Sweden, he was talking about the same things, because his last name wasn’t a name, he felt like there was some racism going on when he was out on the pitch.”
Those comments are true as in 2018, Ibrahimović did confirm to the French broadcaster Canal+ that he felt he was treated differently to other professional stars in Sweden when he said: “This is about racism, I don’t say there is racism, but I say there is undercover racism.”
He was also highly critical of all forms of racism in sport and society in a BBC interview at the tail end of 2020.
However, earlier this season Ibrahimović had to defend himself against allegations he had been racially abusive to Inter Milan striker Romelu Lukaku during January’s Milan derby.
No evidence has been offered by those involved to shed light on what the Swedish superstar was alleged to have said, or why.
No Stranger To Criticism
LeBron James has been criticised previously for his political activism. Fox News journalist Laura Ingraham famously told him to ‘shut up and dribble”, while former President Donald Trump also criticised James and other athletes kneeling to protest against all forms of racism.
However, the NBA star is well aware that his presence and visibility through sport makes him and his peers amongst the strongest possible advocates for an end to racism in society.
Any comments that run counter to that are likely to receive the same short-shrift, unequivocal answer that James gave to Ibrahimović’s observations on Friday night.
Zlatan is not one to take such a rebuttal of his comments without commenting back. The outspoken Swedish ace, 39, has never been one to shy away from controversy throughout his career and it is going to be interesting to see whether anything further develops from their opposing viewpoints.