Late Tuesday night, FS1’s Skip Bayless took to Twitter and thanked LeBron James for speaking out on President Donald Trump’s unacceptable response to the violence in Charlottesville.
Bayless has set the standard for James-bashing and has an unhealthy obsession with playing contrarian and tearing down one of the finest NBA players of all-time. To believe all his criticisms are genuine is an exercise in naivety. To believe he is singularly focused on James because he and his employer think it’s good for business is far more responsible.
When Bayless is forced into shedding his wrestling heel persona by the sheer gravity of real-world events, he re-emerges as someone who has expended all his capital making intellectually dishonest arguments. He made a devil’s bargain and shouldn’t be allowed to wrangle himself out of it when uncomfortable.
Race relations and the future of this country, which feels on the brink of something very ugly, are obviously far more important than the existence of a clutch gene or a basketball player’s legacy. But Bayless has spent several years making mountains out of mole hills in the pursuit of establishing himself as James’ foil. It’s a common and effective tactic, this punching up to elevate oneself to a somewhat equal pedestal.
He’s also impugned James’ character as a teammate and a leader over and over again. All the while, the three-time NBA champion took on a larger and more front-facing role in the world outside of basketball. James, though passive aggressive and sensitive, has established himself as a good role model. He’s been altruistic and outspoken. He’s used his position of global superstar to strive for good.
So now, when decent people everywhere have suddenly taken stock of the status quo and found themselves horrified, James is taking things to the next level. Bayless was thanking him for comments made at an event in Ohio Tuesday calling for love and change.
“I know there’s a lot of tragic things happening in Charlottesville,” James said before leaving the stage at Cedar Point amusement park. “I just want to speak on it right now. I have this platform and I’m somebody that has a voice of command, and the only way for us to be able to get better as a society and us to get better as people is love.
“And that’s the only way we’re going to be able to conquer something at the end of the day. It’s not about the guy that’s the so-called president of the United States, or whatever the case. It’s not about a teacher that you don’t feel like cares about what’s going on with you every day. It’s not about people that you just don’t feel like want to give the best energy and effort to you. It’s about us. It’s about us looking in the mirror. Kids all the way up to the adults. It’s about all of us looking in the mirror and saying, ‘What can we do better to help change?’ And if we can all do that and give 110 percent … then that’s all you can ask for.
It’s fair to quibble with the “so-called” but his message was clear and constructive. This is how he’s using his platform. Consider that and then compare it to what Bayless does with his.
The ironic part of this is that off-camera Bayless is in lockstep with James on an important, real-world issue. But his “thank you” rings hollower than hollow considering his body of work and go-to topic. Bayless the person is obscured by Bayless the performer. Any capital he once had has now been exhausted through the buying of cheap zingers and ratings-driven histrionics.
It’s telling that Bayless had to break character to thank his chosen foil, who was showing his on the big stage. Perhaps there’s a valuable lesson about the pundit who cried fraud one too many times to be learned. Perhaps there’s a lesson about saving some credibility for the big things.