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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar still isn't a fan of LeBron James' statements about COVID-19, and that led to an online essay and response from James himself.
Two months after calling out James' hesitancy to promote the vaccine, the NBA's all-time leading scorer again logged onto his Substack to criticize the Los Angeles Lakers star, this time for a widely criticized meme James posted to his Instagram page.
The offending meme: a three-way Spider-Man pointing meme with the figures labeled "covid," "cold" and "flu," the obvious implication being that three illnesses are basically the same, which is empirically false. James captioned the image "Help me out folks."
The post remains up, for all 106 million of James' Instagram followers.
While some notable names appeared to back up James in the post's comments — such as Trae Young's "100" emoji or Jamie Foxx writing "Gotta point haha" — Abdul-Jabbar directly repudiated James for what he called "a blow to his worthy legacy."
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar isn't happy with LeBron James
In his lengthy essay, Abdul-Jabbar accused James of hurting attempts to increase vaccination rates by undermining the seriousness of COVID-19 and lamented how such a statement could further exacerbate the overrepresentation of African Americans among COVID-19 deaths:
"With 106 million Instagram followers, making such a post is automatically politically impactful because he questions the validity of the efforts to get the country vaccinated. As is evident by some of the comments that cheer LeBron’s post, he’s given support to those not getting vaccinated, which makes the situation for all of worse by postponing our health and economic recovery.
"The CDC reports that those who are unvaccinated are 9 times more likely to be admitted to the hospital and 14 times more likely to die from COVID than those vaccinated. The number rises to 20 time more likely when compared to someone who’s gotten a booster shot. By posting the uninformed meme, LeBron has encouraged vaccine hesitancy which puts lives and livelihoods at risk."
He also presented numbers showing COVID-19, the flu and the common cold are significantly different when it comes to mortality:
"To directly address LeBron’s confusion, no one thinks colds and the flu aren’t serious. In the 2019-2020 flu season, 400,000 people were hospitalized and 22,000 people died. In 2020, 385,428 people died of COVID-19, while so far in 2021, 423,558 have died in the U.S., for a total of 808,986 deaths. Experts agree that COVID-19 is at least 10 times more lethal than the flu. As for the common cold, death is extremely rare."
Abdul-Jabbar still praises James as "a necessary and dynamic voice critical of police brutality against the Black community," but urges James to bring that same activism to the vaccination effort, which he says could save thousands of lives as the Omicron variant spreads across the world.
Abdul-Jabbar has been one of the loudest voices in the sports world regarding vaccines, and James has hardly been his sole target of criticism. He's also criticized James for other, much less serious reasons.
LeBron James responds to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
James was asked about Abdul-Jabbar's essay a day after it was posted, following a 132-123 win over the Houston Rockets. He initially responded by saying he doesn't have a response to the NBA legend, then proceeded to respond by doubling down on the idea that the flu and common cold are similarly serious.
'No, I don't have a response to Kareem at all. And if you saw the post and you read the tag, you know that I'm literally, honestly asking, 'help me out.' Help me kind of figure it all out, like we're all trying to figure this pandemic out. We're all trying to figure out COVID and the new strain. And the flu, I think people forgot about the flu. People like literally forgot about the flu during these times, like that's still going around. It's flu season, so people have forgot about the flu. People have forgot about common colds. That happens, especially with a lot of our kids that's in school. My daughter is in first grade, so a lot of these kids are getting like common colds and getting the flu. But no, I don't have any response to Kareem. No. At all.'
Comparisons to the flu have been frequently used in minimizing the impact of COVID-19 — the common cold less so — but as Abdul-Jabbar's numbers show, the total number of deaths and hospitalizations is far more serious.