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LeBron James, with a lot on his mind, helps Lakers hold off Grizzlies

Lakers forward LeBron James catches a pass against Grizzlies guard Dillon Brooks during a game Jan. 5, 2021, in Memphis.
Lakers forward LeBron James catches a pass on the move against Grizzlies guard Dillon Brooks during a their game Tuesday in Memphis.
(Brandon Dill / Associated Press)

Late in the fourth quarter of an ugly game in Memphis, Tenn., LeBron James worked his way to the free-throw line before he turned his back on the rim and tightly spun over his right shoulder. Fading away with the game in doubt, James hit what was essentially the game-winner, putting one hand toward the court to let Grizzlies’ defender Dillon Brooks know that he was simply too small.

In a game defined by misses — and there were so many of them, including two James airballs — the Lakers’ star made the biggest shots in his team’s 94-92 win. The victory wrapped a 4-0 trip and sends the Lakers back home with the best record in the West.

The shot James made was probably unmakeable for nearly all of the planet’s population. But that he made that shot Tuesday when so many other things in James’ off-court orbit collided reinforced why he’s different from everyone else.

In Georgia, another one of James’ initiatives, “More Than a Vote,” was involved in a history-making runoff election for two Senate seats with control of the legislative branch up for grabs. The drive to make actionable change and fight voter suppression has been James’ signature cause since the summer.

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And earlier Tuesday, news that the Kenosha, Wis., officer involved in the Jacob Blake shooting last summer wouldn’t be charged hit James hard. He and his NBA brethren brought athletics to a pause from inside the NBA bubble with their decision to not play, the issue of police-involved shootings of people of color very personal.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope might not play again Tuesday in Memphis, but he’s continuing to help the Lakers with leadership from the sideline.

“To see that verdict, it was just a blow to the gut … and a blow to the heart. But we’ve got to continue to stay strong, continue to believe in each other and continue to push for the greater change and the greater good,” James said. “And to hear my people turn out in Georgia in the fashion that they did — I’m definitely going to get some more information on it but I heard they turned out in Georgia and that’s commendable. It’s something we started with ‘More Than a Vote’ and we want to continue to do that, continue to support actions like this and causes that went on today. That’s been going on, obviously.

“I’m proud of my people for getting out there and doing what they do best, and that’s being heard and being seen and being powerful and being engaged.”

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James somehow managed to be powerful and engaged on the court while everything happened Tuesday. Coupled with the fights against racial injustice and voter suppression, James also received word that Dr. Dre had been hospitalized in Los Angeles.

Following the game, James posted photos of the two together — he’s been a longtime ambassador of Beats by Dre headphones — saying that he was praying for his “brother.”

With all of that swirling, James still scored 26 points to go with 11 rebounds and seven assists, a performance good enough to keep the Lakers in the “winning business” James said they’re focused on.

“He’s obviously one of the most impressive people I’ve ever been around,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “I think what you just alluded to is one of the ways that makes him special, his ability to compartmentalize but also to have an interest and a care factor in those other type of things going on in the world. To be able to have his mind on some of those things and still perform the way he does, part of what makes him special.”

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The decision in the Blake shooting affected players other than James, with former Buck and Wisconsin native Wesley Matthews visibly and audibly shaken when speaking about it.

“Truly, it’s disheartening just for all the work that everybody put in, all the heartache of the families involved, kids involved in the car, the city that rallied around the community. I mean, it’s just about right and wrong,” Matthews said.

“We can’t start rioting. We can’t, I mean we have to be calculated. We have to keep our foot on the pedal. We have to continue to keep our foot on the gas.”

Center Marc Gasol, a franchise leader in many categories for the Grizzlies, is welcomed back in Memphis before a solid effort in the Lakers’ 108-94 win Sunday.

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The influence athletes can have on society was on display Tuesday. WNBA players were a driving force in the Senate election between Democrat Rev. Raphael Warnock and Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R–Ga.) , a co-owner of the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream. Loeffler criticized the league’s support of Black Lives Matter, causing players to respond by calling for her ouster while campaigning for her challenger.

After leaving the building James’ tweeted a picture of Atlanta Dream players wearing shirts that said “Vote Warnock” with the caption “Think I’m gone put together an ownership group for… The Dream. [Who’s] in? #BlackVotesMatter

“I’m smart enough to know that even though we’re playing the game of basketball that there’s so much more that’s going on in the world,” James said, “so much more that’s even more important than us playing a game.”

And he’s not running from those things. He’s moving toward them — all while hitting fourth-quarter turnarounds.


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