Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James apologized on Sunday after quoting song lyrics on a post to his 45.8 million Instagram followers that featured the offensive phrase “getting that Jewish money.”
Wearing Lakers garb in the backseat of a car on Saturday, James shared the following lyrics from rapper 21 Savage’s song “ASMR” in an Instagram story: “We been getting that Jewish money, Everything is Kosher.” The Action Network’s Darren Rovell shared a screen grab of the story to his Twitter account:
James told ESPN’s Dave McMenamin after Sunday’s loss to the Memphis Grizzlies that he felt the lyrics spoke to “a strength of the Jewish business community,” a misinterpretation that perpetuates a discriminatory stereotype. The historical link between Jewish people and money was anti-Semitic by nature, birthing mistrust of the community that carried through the Holocaust and still exists today.
“Apologies, for sure, if I offended anyone,” James told McMenamin. “That’s not why I chose to share that lyric. I always [post lyrics]. That’s what I do. I ride in my car, I listen to great music, and that was the byproduct of it. So I actually thought it was a compliment, and obviously it wasn’t through the lens of a lot of people. My apologies. It definitely was not the intent, obviously, to hurt anybody.”
Doug Ellin, the creator of HBO’s “Entourage,” was among the most vocal critics of James’ Instagram post, writing, “This is an anti-Semitic stereotype used for centuries to foster hatred against Jews.”
James set off two controversies in one weekend
It was not lost on many of James’ critics that his decision to share the lyrics came a day after his own HBO show, “The Shop,” included a segment in which he said NFL owners have a “slave mentality.”
“In the NFL they got a bunch of old white men owning teams and they got that slave mentality,” James said. “And it’s like, ‘This is my team. You do what the [expletive] I tell y’all to do. Or we get rid of y’all.’”
James will reportedly avoid a fine from the NBA
A number of team owners in the NBA are Jewish, as is commissioner Adam Silver. The timing of James’ post — between Hanukkah and Christmas — also heightens attention to the offending remarks. Per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the NBA does not intend to fine James for sharing the lyrics on Instagram.
The debate over quoting offensive lyrics
James’ decision brought questions about the offensiveness of quoting song lyrics back to the surface in the NBA. Milwaukee Bucks rookie Donte DiVincenzo came under similar fire when a 2011 tweet quoting rapper Meek Mill and including the n-word resurfaced during the NCAA title game in April.
James learned a history lesson that will inform his ability to better understand the Jewish community. Discovering what others find offensive and working to correct your influence over that behavior is more important than any argument about contradictory moral stances or the degree to which quoting lyrics is problematic. Hopefully, that same lesson has as far a reach as James’ Instagram following.
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