MIAMI – LeBron James has a message for Donald Sterling – or any other owner or player who holds racist views: Keep your thoughts to yourself.
"If you own a team or play for a team, you are a face in a huge [league]," James said. "No one face is bigger than this brand – NBA, NFL, MLB, whatever the case may be. …If you want to say it in your own confinement, go ahead. It can't get to the public."
Sterling has reportedly agreed to allow his wife Shelly to negotiate the franchise's forced sale, though the NBA said Friday it is continuing with plans to hold a June 3 hearing and vote on Sterling's ouster.
James has been among the league's most vocal players in criticizing Sterling's comments. He reiterated Friday that Sterling "shouldn't be a part of this league."
"It's very important. We don't want this to linger on in our sport," James said. "It sucks that it happened. The players, the owners and everyone associated with this game, there is no need for it. The quicker it gets done, the quicker we move on."
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban drew some criticism this week for his own comments on racial prejudice. Cuban said he would walk to the other side of the street "if I see a black kid in a hoodie on my side of the street" or "a white guy with a shaved head and tattoos." Cuban issued an apology to the family of Trayvon Martin for his analogy. James had no reaction to Cuban's comments.
James used to rarely offer an opinion on big issues facing the NBA, but has become more outspoken as he's grown older. Two years ago, James and the rest of the Heat wore hooded sweatshirts in tribute to Martin. James also wrote, "We want justice" on his Nikes.
James, 29, appears to be the vocal leader of the NBA now, even more so than Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant. James is currently followed by 12.9 million people on Twitter. James said maturity has helped him feel more comfortable speaking out.
"It's knowing the position I'm in and being a role model and a leader in my sport. …I don't need to do it. It's something I want to do in the position I'm in."
Heat guard Dwyane Wade believes James' confidence in speaking out came after he received criticism for publicly announcing he was leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Heat during free agency in the summer of 2010.
"As he's gotten older, I think he understands that the things that he is passionate about, he can speak out on it," Wade said. "Coming here that first year when he was judged for whatever he did, I think that allowed him to feel confident. 'You know what, I'm going to be judged for whatever I do or don't do. If I say something or don't say something, they are going to judge me.'
"So it allowed him to feel more confident when he was ready to use his voice."