Los Angeles (AFP) - A defiant LeBron James said Saturday he would continue to speak up about social issues and racism in America despite criticism this week from conservative commentators.
The NBA superstar says it is his duty as a parent and role model to use his platform to come to the defence of those that don't have a voice.
"To be an African-American kid and growing up in the inner city with a single parent mother and not being financially stable and to make it where I am today, I feel like I defeated the odds," said James.
The 14-time NBA all-star was responding to comments by Fox News presenter Laura Ingraham who said sports stars should stay out of politics, claiming James should "shut up and dribble."
The 33-year-old from Cleveland, Ohio said he feels it is his obligation -- especially as a father to three young children -- to discuss equality.
"I would not just shut up and dribble," James told reporters from a podium at the Los Angeles Convention Center after practice Saturday in preparation for Sunday's NBA All-Star Game.
"I mean too much to my two boys here, their best friend here, my daughter that is at home, my wife, and all these other kids that look up to me for inspiration and try to find a way out."
James has talked before about growing up poor in one of America's black inner city neighbourhoods but his comments on Saturday were especially sincere.
"I do it because I am passionate about it," he said. "I do it because it is bigger than me," said James who will captain Team LeBron in Sunday's contest at the Staples Center arena.
- Breaking down barriers -
James said he is encouraged to see more and more athletes giving their opinions and breaking down barriers.
"There was a time where athletes felt they shouldn't speak up about things or they didn't feel the courage to speak up about what were going on.
"We definitely will not shut up and dribble. I mean too much to society. I mean too much to the youth, I mean too much to so many kids who feel like they don't have a way out. They need someone to help lead them out of the situation they are in."
Commissioner Adam Silver said Saturday that he welcomes it when his players tackle tough social issues.
"The fact is these players are not just basketball players," Silver said. "They are multi-dimensional and they care and feel compelled to speak out and sometimes at great risk to themselves."
James said sometimes he feels like because of his stature that he has a target on his back.
"If it is for the greater good then I don't mind being a symbol," he said. "I am not trying to get a reward for it.
"I don't think Muhammad Ali tried to get a reward for it. I don't think Jim Brown or Bill Russell or Jackie Robinson, and the list goes on, tried to get a reward for it.
"This is just who we are."
Asked if he believed that the criticism directed against him by Ingraham was racist, James said: "There have been many people that are not African-American that spoke upon the same issues I spoke upon and no one said anything to them.
"So you can look at it as being racist or just racial tension.
"I am just trying to shed a positive light on bad energy that some of the people are trying to give to America or the people of the world. I am not on the negative side."
On a more upbeat note, James said he is looking forward to Sunday's all-star showcase because it has always been a fantasy of his.
"There are a lot of things I dreamed about when I was a kid. But being an all-star was something that was far fetched," he said.
"This is my 14th straight start, setting a record by being part of a class with Jerry West and Michael Jordan means a lot."