LeBron James asked for advice on COVID, and he got it—though he may not have liked the answer he received from a fellow basketball great. The hubbub started on Christmas Eve, when the 36-year-old Los Angeles Lakers forward posted a cartoon on Instagram that showed a variation on the famous "Spider-Man pointing at Spider-Man" meme, meant to signify like entities encountering each other. In James' meme, three Spider-Man characters were shown, with the accompanying labels "COVID," "cold," and "flu"—along with James' caption, which read: "Help me out folks," suggesting that James was saying the three illnesses were similar in some way.
Enter Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who Yahoo Sports notes has called out James before on his COVID takes. In a new Substack essay, Abdul-Jabbar, 74, calls James "one of the greatest basketball players ever" and praises him for his work in combating racial injustice. However, Abdul-Jabbar then lays out his main issues with James' Spider-Man meme—a post Abdul-Jabbar calls a "blow to his worthy legacy"—beginning with a James quote from September in which he said, "I don't talk about other people and what they should do. We're talking about individual bodies. We're not talking about something political or racism."
Abdul-Jabbar disagrees on both counts, taking James to task for enabling vaccine hesitancy, a decidedly "politically impactful" move, as James has 106 million Instagram followers. Abdul-Jabbar also points out it's impossible to separate the current COVID situation from its racial implications, as a disproportionate number of Black Americans have suffered adverse effects from the virus, and counters the insinuation that COVID is no worse than the flu or common cold, noting "COVID-19 is at least 10 times more lethal than the flu," while the common cold rarely causes death. James "needs to be the same necessary and dynamic advocate with vaccines, which could save thousands of Black lives right now," Abdul-Jabbar writes.
James has gotten wind of Abdul-Jabbar's message, and initially he didn't have much to say about it. "No, I don't have a response to Kareem at all," James said Tuesday after a Lakers win against the Houston Rockets, per the New York Post. However, he later clarified to Silver Screen and Roll that he was genuinely seeking help in answering questions he had. "We're all trying to figure this pandemic out," he noted. "We're all trying to figure out COVID and the new strain. And the flu, I think people forgot about the flu. ... People have forgot about common colds. But no, I don't have any response to Kareem. No. At all." (Read more Kareem Abdul-Jabbar stories.)