LeBron James took the NBA's vaccination efforts one step forward before taking it one step back. During the Lakers's first media day of the 2021-2022 NBA season, James revealed he was vaccinated but stopped short of advocating for others to do the same.
James admitted that he was skeptical about the vaccine early on, but that he ultimately decided that "it was best suited for not only me but for my family and my friends." Another motivator for the four-time NBA champion was his quest for a fifth title noting how "health [is] the number one thing." These are admirable reasons for combatting the COVID-19 pandemic, but limiting his reasoning to his close circle of family, friends and teammates — while refusing to encourage other players to get vaccinated themselves — curiously narrows the altruism for an NBA superstar who has voluntarily stepped into the role of activist for the greater good in recent years.
During the 2020 presidential election, James went above and beyond his responsibilities as an athlete by launching the More Than A Vote organization with goals of curtailing voter suppression and increasing voter turnout in the Black community. His efforts went as far as partnering with the Los Angeles Dodgers to turn the 33,500 square feet of Dodgers Stadium into a polling place. He purposefully used his immense influence to educate the Black community on the value of voting, telling the New York Times he's "leading the charge" on combatting voting issues because he's in a position do so. Whether it was using the platform of the 2021 NBA playoffs to voice his unwavering support of the George Floyd Bill aimed at outlawing deadly police techniques or vowing to forever raise awareness on racism, James has routinely come forward to lead people.
His history of activism for the greater good is what makes his stance on vaccine advocacy perplexing. When asked by a reporter during the Lakers' media day if the issue of vaccination were prudent enough for a player of his stature to speak out, James surprisingly framed a public health crisis through the lens of individual choice. "We're talking about individual's bodies. We're not talking about something that's political, racism, or police brutality, or things of that nature. We're talking about people's bodies and well-beings, so I don't feel like, for me personally, I should get involved in what other people should do with their bodies." He then erroneously compared telling someone to get vaccinated with telling someone which job to take.
James advocated for Black people to vote because voting is our civic duty — "not only to empower themselves, but to give back to their community as well," according to his Times interview. He rallies against police brutality because "we are scared as Black people in America," as he told reporters following a Game 4 win against the Portland Trail Blazers in the 2020 NBA playoffs. It is not lost on him that individual decisions like voting and police officers killing innocent Black people have societal effects that outweigh personal choices. Given his history of activism and recent comments on vaccine hesitancy and refusal for advocacy, it's hard to not come to the conclusion that winning an NBA title and protecting his family factored more into his vaccination than stoping the spread of COVID-19 across the world he'll surely be traveling around as an international superstar.
Why else would he compare the proven best defense against COVID-19 to deciding on a new job? Why else would he keep his vaccination status private in March before states began rolling out indoor vaccination mandates and only revealed his vaccination status right before the start of the 2021-2022 NBA season? James was adamant about not playing NBA games without fans in the arena days before the NBA paused the 2019-2020 NBA season in early March due to COVID-19. He also voluntarily came out in opposition of canceling that season. Voting and police brutality don't directly affect the NBA season or James's quest for a championship, but COVID-19 does. And that appears to be why James can fight against the former's deleterious effects on society and relegate the latter to a personal choice in his sport.
Roughly 10% of NBA players are unvaccinated, and none have vocally used James's anti-advocacy stance to embolden theirs, but his lack of leadership on this is unfortunate. Orlando Magic forward Jonathan Issac has refused to be vaccinated because of his age group, physical fitness and the fact he's developed antibodies after contracting COVID-19 even though CDC-approved studies have shown unvaccinated individuals who previously contracted COVID-19 are twice as likely to be reinfected than people who contracted the virus and got vaccinated. Issac is also against vaccination due to it opening him up for the rare occurrence of adverse effects to the vaccine, which he presumably doesn't believe his elite physical conditioning could prevent in the same way it can reinfection. Other NBA stars like James's former teammate Kyrie Irving, Bradley Beal, and Andrew Wiggins have also expressed hesitancy to get vaccinated, with varying amounts of explanation and silence around their decisions.
The NBA's proposal for a vaccine mandate for all players was rejected by the NBA Players Association. With the most influential basketball player since Michael Jordan refusing to advocate for vaccination for the greater good, the battle against COVID-19 continues to be uphill..