LeBron James’ docu-series “Shut Up and Dribble” will assert the moral authority of athletes

The three-part Showtime series will chart the evolving role of the NBA in politics.
The three-part Showtime series will chart the evolving role of the NBA in politics.
Image: AP Photo/Phil Long
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Has anyone checked on Laura Ingraham?

In February, the conservative Fox News talking head told NBA star LeBron James to “shut up and dribble” after he criticized US president Donald Trump. Now, James has made Ingraham’s uncivil and arguably racist insult the title of a new documentary series.

Shut Up and Dribble will explore precisely the thing Ingraham seeks to squash: the growing political influence of athletes. The three-part Showtime series will be produced by James, the best basketball player on the planet and, increasingly, a cultural icon. Announced by Showtime CEO David Nevins at the Television Critics Association summer press tour yesterday (Aug. 6), the show promises to serve as a “powerful inside look at the changing role of athletes in our fraught cultural and political environment,” highlighting specifically how NBA players are helping to bring about social change off the court.

“If being a star athlete is inherently a political experience, ‘Shut Up and Dribble’ tells that complex and dramatic story from the past to the present and from the inside out,” said Nevins in a press release.

James is the latest and biggest example of an athlete wielding his platform to make a difference in people’s lives. The Los Angeles Laker star opened a public school for at-risk kids in his hometown of Akron, Ohio that provides food pantries, job training, and college tuition, among a host of other thoughtful and generous perks for students and their families. In an interview with CNN anchor Don Lemon, James continued to criticize Trump, saying the president is “using sports to divide us.”

Trump’s response to the interview was to immediately insult James’ intelligence—not unlike Ingraham’s barb several months ago. (Before he ran for president, Trump routinely praised James on Twitter, calling him a “great guy.”) In a tweet, the president of the United States called Lemon “the dumbest man on television” and suggested that he makes James look smart by comparison, “which isn’t easy to do.” A throng of NBA players, celebrities, and even the president’s own wife, Melania Trump, leapt to James’ defense.

These immediate, overwrought reactions to a popular black athlete voicing an opinion only underscores the thesis behind James’ upcoming series. From US Olympians Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their fists in a black power salute at the 1968 Olympics to NFL player Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the national anthem, American sports stars have often used their visibility to make powerful statements. Playing in the NBA in 2018 is itself a political act, one that James and others have harnessed to draw attention to issues that impact lives far beyond the confines of a 94-by-50-foot court.

Shut Up and Dribble is the second premium-cable project James recently became involved in, after he inked a deal with HBO to produce The Shop, a series that will offer “unfiltered conversation and debate” with popular athletes and entertainers filmed in different barbershops across the US. He has also teamed up with the actress Octavia Spencer to make a Netflix series telling the incredible story of Madam C.J. Walker, a daughter of slaves who became a black hair care mogul and the first self-made female millionaire in American history.