LeBron James has long used his platform to speak about what he feels are unfair practices by the NCAA in its treatment of student-athletes who generate money for universities but can’t profit off their own name, image or likenesses.
So when Gov. Gavin Newsom signed California Senate Bill 206 on Monday, he did it on “The Shop,” a show produced by James’ digital media company, Uninterrupted.
“It was an honor to have the governor come on our show,” said James, who believes the bill will bring “a historical change in time.”
James never went to college, but the issue is personal to him because he knows what he would have experienced as a college athlete.
“That 23 jersey would have got sold all over the place without my name on the back, but everybody would have known the likeness,” James said, then alluded to his preference to play for his beloved Ohio State. “My body would have been on the NCAA basketball game [in] 2004 and the Schottenstein Center would have been sold out every single night if I was there. And coming from just me and my mom, we didn’t have anything and we wouldn’t have been able to benefit at all from it and the university would have been able to capitalize on everything that I would have been there for that year or two or whatever.
“So I understand what those kids are going through. I feel for those kids that have been going through it for so long, so that’s why it’s personal to me.”
LeBron James talks about why the subject of athletes getting paid is personal to him. And what would have happened if he went to Ohio State. pic.twitter.com/TdqYZtIX2a— Tania Ganguli (@taniaganguli) September 30, 2019
Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green, who has partnered with James on projects for Uninterrupted, agrees with his position.
“Someone needs to force this dictatorship to change because that’s exactly what it is,” Green said. “It’s no different than any country that’s ran by dictators. The NCAA is a dictatorship. I think it’s great for him. I think it was amazing to see that done on Uninterrupted, and the platform — that’s exactly what that platform was built about.”
James has been at the forefront of the effort to draw attention to the issue. His production company SpringHill Entertainment produced a documentary for HBO last year called “Student Athlete.”
“Not only LeBron, but players like Steph Curry and Kevin Durant — to [whom] much is given, much is expected,” Lakers forward Jared Dudley said. “Your voice is huge and what you speak on brings [issues] to light. LeBron is basically saying player empowerment in the sense of, hey, someone like [former Duke star] Zion [Williamson] who brings so much money in should be able to get just a piece.”
The NCAA is strongly opposed to the new California law, which will allow college athletes competing for universities in the state to profit from use of their name, image or likeness beginning in 2023. No other state has passed such a bill, but similar legislation is being discussed elsewhere.
Lakers coach Frank Vogel agreed with his players and said it was “about time” when asked about the bill. Vogel was a student manager at the University of Kentucky.
“We did something called barnstorming in Kentucky, where once the players were done [with college eligibility] they’d go on tour,” Vogel said. “The graduating players would go play with some of the student managers — myself, and some of the other guys, and just go to local high school gyms around the state of Kentucky and earn some money that way. But you shouldn’t have to do stuff like that.”
That James uses his platform to push the issue is appreciated by his teammates.
“He’s using his voice to speak for the athletes,” Lakers wing Danny Green said. “The young African American kids. A lot of them, the ones that are in these institutions, these universities that are ... great players. They’re more than athletes obviously, but he’s speaking up for them.”
Staff writer Dan Woike contributed to this report.
I’m so incredibly proud to share this moment with all of you. @gavinnewsom came to The Shop to do something that will change the lives for countless athletes who deserve it! @uninterrupted hosted the formal signing for SB 206 allowing college athletes to responsibly get paid. pic.twitter.com/NZQGg6PY9d— LeBron James (@KingJames) September 30, 2019