LeBron James Is Now A Free Agent. Now What? In this installment of our weekly Barbershop segment, host Michel Martin talks with freelance writer Jimi Izrael; civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar; Republican strategist Marcus Skelton; and Pablo Torre, a reporter for Sports Illustrated. They discuss LeBron James' status as a free agent, the Supreme Court ruling on the Chicago gun ban and singer Chris Brown’s tearful performance at the BET awards.
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LeBron James Is Now A Free Agent. Now What?

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LeBron James Is Now A Free Agent. Now What?

LeBron James Is Now A Free Agent. Now What?

LeBron James Is Now A Free Agent. Now What?

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/128271586/128267594" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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In this installment of our weekly Barbershop segment, host Michel Martin talks with freelance writer Jimi Izrael; civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar; Republican strategist Marcus Skelton; and Pablo Torre, a reporter for Sports Illustrated. They discuss LeBron James' status as a free agent, the Supreme Court ruling on the Chicago gun ban and singer Chris Brown’s tearful performance at the BET awards.

MICHEL MARTIN, Host:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

It's time for TELL ME MORE's weekly visit to the barbershop, where the guys talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds. Sitting in the chairs for their shapeup this week, are freelance writer Jimi Izrael; syndicated columnist, civil rights attorney and editor Arsalan Iftikhar; Sports Illustrated reporter Pablo Torre; and Republican strategist Marcus Skelton. Take it away, Jimi.

JIMI IZRAEL: Hey, Michel, thanks so much. Pablo.

PABLO TORRE: Yo.

IZRAEL: Mi hermano de otro madre, que paso?

TORRE: Como estas?

IZRAEL: I'm making it do what it do. Helter Skelton, what's good be?

MARCUS SKELTON: It's all good in the world. I see Republicans winning elections around the country. John Wall's in D.C., Marion Barry is going to try to go get LeBron. So, you know, I'm real happy.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Why did you open the door?

IZRAEL: What a wonderful world you live in.

MARTIN: I was going to say, why did you open the door?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: A-train. Fellas, everybody, welcome to the shop, how are we doing?

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Hey, hey hey.

IZRAEL: All right, well, let's jump right in and talk about sports news this week. Basketball superstar LeBron James was feted by the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets yesterday, Michel.

MARTIN: Jimi, how are you containing your anxiety?

IZRAEL: I'm fine.

MARTIN: 'Cause, you know, the world's greatest free agent is in the mix, in the mix.

IZRAEL: Yeah, yeah, it's cool in gang.

MARTIN: The Wizards would love to have him. I don't know what's going to happen there. But Jay-Z was part of the come-to-my-team-please chorus for the Knicks since he owns a percentage of the team, apparently.

IZRAEL: Right.

MARTIN: So, it's all good.

IZRAEL: Yeah, it's one of those things. You know, Pablo.

TORRE: Yes.

IZRAEL: Now, look, where should LeBron go?

TORRE: Well...

MARTIN: D.C., D.C.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Sorry.

TORRE: I think there are a couple of different questions here. I think one is where he should go, one is where he will go. In my mind, if I'm LeBron James, I'm going to Chicago. I'm going to a place where with the starting five you add LeBron James to Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah. You bring another one of these one or two free agents that are out there, and I think they're even money to win a championship.

Now, the question, of course, is whether LeBron James is ambitious or crazy enough to want to challenge the legacy of Michael Jordan. Does he vision himself someone who can challenge the greatest player of all time in the city where he did it, wearing the uniform that he wore. You know, I think there are other considerations too. I think this - I mean, first off, I just want to say thank you to New York and New Jersey for making this interesting, because the comedy of the idea of having Jay-Z and this Russian billionaire owner of the Nets, we're all going to come to know and love, Mikhail Prokhorov, this 6'9" Russian combination of Ivan Drago and Warren Buffett in the room with LeBron James just makes me laugh, pretty much every time I think about it.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

TORRE: And in New York they've hung up, across MSG, you know, these guys, Jay-Z is less than a one-percent owner of the Nets, but his face is literally on the billboard with Prokhorov over MSG, which has...

IZRAEL: That's more than you, Pablo.

TORRE: Slightly more, at least.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

TORRE: No shortage of consternation amongst the Knicks, rather. So, it's entertaining for all involved.

MARTIN: MSG being - MSG is not what you put in food.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

TORRE: Madison Square Garden.

MARTIN: That's what I...

TORRE: About as poisonous, though, at this point, for basketball.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: You know, A-train, I wonder if he's going to stay here in Cleveland, 'cause just to be happy. 'Cause I'm not sure if he's really concerned. He's a young man, so I'm not really sure if he's concerned about his legacy at this point. I mean, he's got a long time to kind of sketch out a legacy. What do you think about that?

IFTIKHAR: Absolutely. I think he's staying in Cleveland. I think that he's essentially making the city and the organization of the Cavaliers sweat a little bit, and I think he's going to come back. You know, my family's from Chicago, so if they went there, my friends and family would be doing jumping jacks. But I think at the end of the day, you know, he - again, he's a hometown boy. He just recently built, from the ground up, a 30,000 square foot house. I mean, his mom lives there.

I think he has every reason in the world, you know, to stay in the city, whose economy essentially revolves around him. And so, like I said, I think he's going - he's making the city of Cleveland sweat a little bit. Now they, you know, apparently are - just signed Byron Scott as their new head coach. And, you know, I think that in the next week or so we'll hear that LeBron is staying in Cleveland.

MARTIN: You know, this is really interesting to me because this does raise all kinds of interesting cultural questions about - because I think African- Americans, among others, are often weighted with something in their personal decision making that other groups are not. So I think other ethnic groups are too, but...

IFTIKHAR: Absolutely.

MARTIN: But it's, like, what you owe the group as opposed to what you owe yourself.

IFTIKHAR: Yeah.

MARTIN: And I do think that this whole question of, like, Cleveland needs you more, you community here, needs you more than the Knicks do or that the Nets do, is an interesting question.

IFTIKHAR: Well, and who can pay him the most also.

MARTIN: Right.

IFTIKHAR: As Pablo knows, under NBA salary cap rules, you know, Cleveland Cavaliers will be able to offer the most money also.

MARTIN: They will? Oh, well, see, then it makes sense.

TORRE: And make no mistake, I mean there's been...

IZRAEL: Go ahead, Pablo.

TORRE: ...few instances - few instances if no other instance of a free agent, number one - but also a hometown product, you know, having the option to stay with his team or leave. It's really the ultimate kind of, I don't know, drama as far as, you know, the pathos and, kind of, the emotional wellness of Cleveland as far as how much they rely on this guy.

MARTIN: Marcus, are you going to...

IZRAEL: Helter-skelter.

MARTIN: I was going say, are you with me on the Wizards, hoping and hoping?

SKELTON: Well, of course. I say we need to get our D.C. lobbying of Marion Barry and Chuck Brown, we can...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SKELTON: ...get LeBron to come here anytime. But I think LeBron will actually - he's going to stay in Cleveland. I thing he's come to that point as a player where people will come to Cleveland. Like as, if you see in Kobe Bryant on the West Coast, people will come to L.A. just to play with a solid nucleus of players and Cleveland is starting to develop that.

I think LeBron has steered the coach he wanted. You saw him go after Tom Izzo, and Tom Izzo wasn't going to let LeBron do what he wanted to do. So you've got that decision. And then you've got Byron Scott as more of a go with the flow type coach. And players will come to him. You have Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wayne - excuse me Dwyane Wade, looking for places to come.

They can come onto Cleveland. The housing market is a lot cheaper. You can probably build yourself a fortress out there.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SKELTON: You know, so I think that's the...

IZRAEL: Hey, now. Hey, now. That's my city, bro.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: Be careful.

MARTIN: He knows. He knows.

TORRE: You can build a fortress.

SKELTON: And exactly, you can go out there and build a fortress, too. You know, so that's...

MARTIN: He hasn't invited us to swim in his pool yet. I don't know what's up with that.

TORRE: In his moat.

MARTIN: But can I just ask Pablo before we move on?

TORRE: Sure.

MARTIN: 'Cause I know that, Jimi, has other things he wants to talk about. But I did want to ask this whole issue of a star player kind of dictating who the coach is.

TORRE: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: How does that generally work out?

TORRE: You know, it's funny. I think you need to have an ego. You need - well, not just an ego, that's obvious - but the confidence that whatever happens, I mean, you're willing to take the heat. I mean at this point, LeBron James is the puppet master.

You know, everything that happens with whatever team he goes to, except maybe the Heat who has Dwyane Wade - who have Dwyane Wade - all the heat is going to be on him; no pun intended. And I think if he wants to choose the coach, everyone is going to know this is on LeBron. If the experiment fails, it's because he failed.

MARTIN: Hmm. If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're having our weekly visit to the Barbershop with Jimi Izrael, Marcus Skelton, Arsalan Iftikhar and Pablo Torre.

Back to you, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel.

Okay, so let's pivot to guns and gun possession. Now, you all know that the Supreme Court said, five to four, that Chicago's gun ban is unconstitutional. Michel?

MARTIN: Well, you know, this is something that we've talked about because there was a prior guess. And, Arsalan, you know a lot about this, that where the Court ruled in a D.C. measure that the individual right to bear arms supersedes the state and local gun laws. So that's obviously the interesting question.

But I think we're more interested in the interesting argument that Clarence Thomas made about this...

IFTIKHAR: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...where he brought sort of history that we actually had previously reported on, about the ways in which African-Americans were explicitly denied the right to own guns - distinctly from whites. And I was just - I was very intrigued by this.

I think it kind of adds to a different picture that people may have of Clarence Thomas and the way his mind actually works. I don't know.

Arsalan did you have the similar...

IFTIKHAR: Yeah, I mean I was - obviously I was shocked by, you know, both - I was shocked but not surprised by the ruling. You know, the difference between the D.C. case, which was the Heller case and the Chicago - McDonald v. the City of Chicago case, is that the District of Columbia does fall under federal jurisdiction, whereas obviously Chicago and the State of Illinois, you know, under the Federalism Doctrine is its own autonomous state.

And so, essentially what the Court and, you know, what I like to call the rats pack - the Roberts, Alito, Thomas, Scalia wing - of the conservative activist wing of the Supreme Court, initially with Kennedy as the swing vote, basically said that Chicago's 28-year handgun ban, you know, is unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment.

Now, Mayor Richard Daley has said that he's going to revisit and try to write a law that, you know, might either make the sale of handguns more restrictive, or the registration process more restrictive. So, you know, I don't think that this is the last that we've heard from the Chicago side (unintelligible).

MARTIN: No, I get that but in D.C., also. But he made the argument that some advocates in D.C. had made - African-Americans who linked blacks, what happened to blacks during the post-Reconstruction Era...

IFTIKHAR: Right.

MARTIN: ...and Justice Thomas explicitly linked that to his vote for striking down the Chicago gun ban. He wrote that, quote, "The use of fire arms for self- defense was often the way black citizens could protect themselves from mob violence."

IFTIKHAR: Yeah, but I also think, again, I think that was sort of a whitewash of they were actually, you know, writing the opinion for, which was for the NRA...

MARTIN: What?

IFTIKHAR: ...and the gun lobby.

MARTIN: Well, why do you think that though? I mean why do you say that based on the..?

IFTIKHAR: Well, because I mean Clarence Thomas, you know, obviously to anyone who has been an observer of the Court, you know, as Dave Chappelle would probably say, you know, makes Bryant Gumbel look like Malcolm X. I mean he...

MARTIN: No, he had long history before he was on the Court. And he actually had...

IFTIKHAR: But I'm talking about his history on the Court. And so, you know, to talk - you know, they're basically saying that right to own a gun is a fundamental right, like we should give every baby a Glock-9 when they're born. And so, you know, there are a lot of worrying. The Citizens United case most recently, where they said that essentially that corporations are like people in terms of free speech...

MARTIN: No, I get your point on that. What I'm arguing with you is your argument is that Clarence Thomas is essentially a puppet for these advocacies, just like the NRA. And I'm saying why isn't it perfectly reasonable that this is, in fact, his point of view; that he is, in fact, in some measure a nationalist. He's certainly a self-determinist, and therefore, this is a point of view that many people just have not been aware that he is has.

I think Marcus should get a chance to jump in on this.

SKELTON: Well, I think you'd be surprised. I mean I think that - and this is, you know, me being in the black Republican fan club, too. You don't Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, you know, patting Clarence Thomas on the back for this one. But I think he has an absolute right point, that in certain parts of the country, if you happen to live in the inner city all of a sudden the Constitution doesn't apply to you.

But if you live Oklahoma you can, you know, buy a canon and put it in your backyard.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SKELTON: And this is one of the things where you look at Clarence Thomas's history on the Court, and when he does make a stance like this, he has no support amongst the African-American community. And I think you have to look at that and the history of building up Republicans in the party.

MARTIN: Well, people have a right to have different opinions about what's in the best interest of people, right now.

SKELTON: Right.

MARTIN: I mean I don't think that's unreasonable. I just...

SKELTON: Right. And I think the other important thing is that you see the adjustments that Chicago has made, or that they're suggesting right now, are reasonable. They say that people can have a handgun in their home. They have to go through training. There's a limit on a certain number of them. I think that's a small step for people being able to protect themselves in their home.

I think it's different when you have a gun problem in society and then, like, what they said, if you have a problem with people on your street and that you pay a mortgage on a street that you don't feel safe on, I think it's a reality for some people, where some people it might just be afar off policy agenda.

MARTIN: Jimi, can I ask you your perspective on this?

IZRAEL: Well, I mean my whole thing is, I'm a little - I don't know. I waver a little bit on the whole gun control thing. Because I think you should protect yourself, but, you know, I don't want, you know, people walking around with like 15, 20 guns their house, talking about they're protecting themselves.

You know, so I don't know who they're protecting themselves from. You know?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: The Taliban? I mean, so I don't know. I just want to see how it shakes out.

TORRE: Well, for me and it just seemed obvious in reading this - going back to Michel's original question, that, I mean this touched a really raw nerve within Clarence Thomas. I mean, I don't think anybody expected this out of him. As far as - you look at the language he was using, I mean this is clearly an opinion delivered out of passion. It's something that he cared deeply about.

My quibble with it - well, first off, I recognize completely the historical validity of it. My quibble with it is just that it seems to be, you know, the criticism comes because it's again, its sort of this originalist argument, that in society today, I'm not quite sure that, you know, that if you look at these statistics that, you know, that gun crime - I mean as far as use of guns by African-Americans happened in defending their property against white people.

I mean it just seems like there's this 2010 frame that probably should be applied there. And given the problem, especially in sports - I mean at the very least, is a snapshot. I mean, it just seems like it's such an endemic problem culturally that it may be the wrong reasons to trump it...

MARTIN: Yeah. And I would argue with Marcus on it, argue that you're not allowed to change your mind about something that may or may not be in the best interest of the people who serve. I mean it's an interesting question.

We have to - we got - Arsalan you want a final bite of that apple?

IFTIKHAR: Yeah, you know, again it's, you know, the whole - the conservatives tend to be, you know, very Federalist and they essentially completely concede to state's rights and things like that. And, you know, the originalist's argument, you know let's not forget the Second Amendment gives people the right to bear arms to form a well-regulated state militia.

Well, we don't have a militia state - form of armed forces any more.

MARTIN: 'Cause they disagree with that.

IFTIKHAR: Well, what I'm saying is if that if they're true constructionists, if they're, you know, if they're the Scalia literalists then, you know, they should not hide behind the duplicity of the fact that, you know, the crimes have actually gone up in Chicago since 28-year - the handgun ban has gone up, and that we have, you know, more gun homicide than Japan, England, Spain, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands, Italy combined.

MARTIN: I got it. Okay, Marcus, final bite of that apple before we move on.

SKELTON: Right. And, you know, I think if you look at the statistics that Chicago came out with that they have seized over 10,000 illegal, undocumented, whatever you want to call them, handguns. I think it's not the fact that it's just the law is the problem. It's the people that are getting their hands on guns is the problem. And that's the argument that, if you live in this community, there's 10,000 that they found. There's probably another 10 to 20,000 guns that are out there.

And if I'm a 76 -year-old man that can't even walk out on my street corner, that's the reality that he lives in. You know, for some people that's not the reality where you can't walk down the street or you don't see the guys who are selling dope on your corner. Not just you drive past them on your way to work. So I think it's a little bit different.

MARTIN: Jimi, you have something else before we let you go?

IZRAEL: I was going to say, if it's that serious on your block, maybe you should move.

SKELTON: Amen.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: I mean...

SKELTON: Land open real(ph).

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: Yeah.

SKELTON: Real and land over(ph)...

MARTIN: Well, before we go...

IZRAEL: You must've live on the same block with the Cosby and the kid from the pound cake, and he'd be shot in the head. You know...

MARTIN: Gracious.

So, Jimi, before we go...

IZRAEL: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...what's your take on the BET Awards? I know you study them closely. And...

IZRAEL: Well, no I don't.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: But the whole thing with Chris Brown and I guess he had a kind of a moment of weepy clarity. And he broke down and he couldn't finish singing "Man in the Mirror," a song made famous by Michael Jackson, written by Siedah Garrett. A dope, dope song...

MARTIN: Yeah, let's just play a little bit of it. We've got a little bit of it...

IZRAEL: Yeah. Yeah.

MARTIN: Here it is. Mm-hmm.

(SOUNDBITE OF BET AWARDS)

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

CHRIS BROWN: (Singing) I'm gonna make a change, for once in my life...

(SOUNDBITE OF WEEPING)

BROWN: (Singing) And it feels real good...

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

MARTIN: And it's, you know, it's a little painful to listen to, because he obviously...

IZRAEL: I really is.

MARTIN: ...is struggling to get through it and I guess, you know, as uncomfortable as I am with sort of assessing people's motivation, Jimi, I am curious, you know, what you think of...

IZRAEL: Look, you know me, Michel. I was really uncomfortable from the beginning talking about this. You know, I'm the father of a daughter and a son. And also, as the victim of domestic violence, you know. And it's one of things, in terms of whether he should be forgiven or whether his motives were pure, you know what - none of us can judge this guy. None of us.

You know, we weren't in his situation. And here's what I think we know. He doesn't appear to be ritual abuser. You know, what we do know is that he was a young man who made the wrong choice of what may have been a really, really, really tough situation.

Let this young man live his life. Please?

MARTIN: Hmm.

IZRAEL: If he found a moment of clarity singing a Michael Jackson song, you know, on BET, God bless him. Please, let him live his life.

MARTIN: Arsalan, what do you think? 'Cause I know you came out really hard on him when we first talked about this. Of course, he pled guilty for assaulting his then-girlfriend Rihanna - very briefly.

IFTIKHAR: Right, you know, I saw the entire Michael Jackson tribute. And the dance part, the first seven minutes of it, was awesome.

SKELTON: Yeah, it was.

IFTIKHAR: It showed that the kid has talent. And then, you know, he breaks down crying and I kind of scratched my head throughout the whole thing.

You know, and let's not forget, you know, again, he did plead guilty to a felony. And, you know, he essentially, you know, he didn't just hit his girlfriend. He made Rihanna look like Buster Douglas.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IFTIKHAR: I mean, you know, this was - it was bad.

MARTIN: Yeah? So and your point is?

IFTIKHAR: My point...

MARTIN: I mean I don't - nobody's excusing that conduct, you're saying what - he should - what should happen now?

IFTIKHAR: I don't know what should happen now. But I wouldn't shed a tear if he didn't make a comeback.

MARTIN: Hmm. Okay. Well, tough crowd here.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Thanks everybody.

Arsalan Iftikhar was here in our Washington, D.C. studio. He's the founder of muslimguy.com and he comes down with like a hammer when a star misbehaves. He's a legal fellow for the Institute for Social Policy. Notwithstanding.

Also with us, Marcus Skelton, Republican strategist, grant advisor for the Higher Education Association in Washington, D.C.

Pablo Torre is a reporter for Sports Illustrated. He was with us from New York.

And Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist, author of the book "The Denzel Principle." He joined us from WCPN in Cleveland.

Thanks, everybody.

IFTIKHAR: Peace.

SKELTON: Thank you.

TORRE: Thank you.

IZRAEL: Yup-Yup.

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more on Monday.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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