in article about lebron james and meme culture, image on james with arms over head playing basketball in lakers jersey

LeBron James Is the Meme King

The basketball star's recent induction into meme culture has placed him under a new type of spotlight. 
January 7, 2023
8 mins read

LeBron James is universally considered one of the greatest basketball players of all time, if not the greatest of all time. He began his career in 2003 straight out of high school, back when NBA prospects were not forced to spend a year in college. Even before finishing school, the hype surrounding the young star from Akron, Ohio, was building across the country. One of the best basketball players the world had ever seen, James was already named “The Chosen One” by Sports Illustrated in 2002 and was dubbed “The King,” before he ever stepped foot onto an NBA court.

Two decades later, it is safe to say that The King lived up to the hype: On the court, he has secured nearly every achievement, including four MVP awards and four NBA championships. He is also on track to become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer by the end of the 2022-23 season, despite being a pass-first type of player.

Off the court, however, James has been on the wrong end of a recent string of hilarious memes circulating the internet. These memes are twofold: both clips of James lying and clips of him lip-syncing.

The craze began in 2017 with a viral video of James trying to rap to Tee Grizzley’s “First Day Out” when he clearly did not know the words. The video spread across the internet, but most of the jokes revolved around James’ newly shaved head rather than his poor lip-syncing. Nevertheless, the original video was the start of Lebron’s goofy rapping clips.

It took a few more years before another viral lip-sync by the basketball player surfaced. In 2021, James began uploading the videos much more frequently. One clip included him singing a song by rap artist Pop Smoke and missing every other word. Another featured the star singing another song in his car, failing to recall most of the lyrics.

The most recent LeBron James singing video came out earlier this year. In the video, James is once again trying to sing along to one of his favorite rap songs, but in his version, one of the lyrics sounds very different than the original. Internet users have spelled out James’ words phonetically as “yabadabadoo Old Navy.” Thousands of memes making fun of the clip have spawned since its release, which has made the basketball player somewhat of a laughingstock. The video has also caused dozens of James’ earlier failed lip-sync clips to resurface.

But James’ poor lip-syncing is not his only place in meme culture; the star’s flagrant lying has also played a significant role in the recent attention he’s received on the internet. An early example of James’ lying came in the 2005-06 NBA season, shortly after Kobe Bryant dropped his iconic 81-point performance. In an interview, James claimed to have told his friends prior to the game that Kobe would drop 70 points, and when Kobe got to 70, James went on to say “he might as well go for 80.” To put this into perspective, scoring 70 points in a single game is a major feat: Even the original 70-point claim would have placed Kobe among the top ten scoring performances of all time, an absurd thing to predict for a random regular-season game. But 80 points is the second highest single-game point total. So, for James to have randomly predicted that would have to be some sort of miracle — or an outright lie.

In 2021, James lied during an interview about his support for Liverpool FC, an English soccer club that he partially owns. The King was asked if he knew Peter Crouch, a former Liverpool soccer player, to which he responded with an unassured yes before stumbling over his words.

But the most well-known instance of James’ lying came from a post-game interview back in 2020. The King showed up with “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” by Alex Haley to show his support for the Black Lives Matter movement following the murder of George Floyd. But when asked about his favorite takeaway from the book, James made it clear that he had not even read the first page.

From a star with as high of a profile as LeBron James, one would expect more careful internet screening from his PR team. Yet, James continues to upload many of these embarrassing videos to his personal Instagram account.

The basketball star and his team cannot blame ignorance for their mishaps either. Not only are the memes all over social media, but James himself has young children who are also active on the internet. So, the only possible explanation for the continuous release of problematic videos is that James does not care about the memes, or he may even find them funny. This is evidenced by a recent podcast where The King clearly replicates the infamous Kobe game prediction, making fun of his past lies.

James’ willingness to play into the meme culture surrounding his name is refreshing. Professional athletes and other celebrities are too often placed on a pedestal that makes them nearly untouchable. Removed from regular society, it’s difficult for supporters to reach out to their favorite stars or to know them on any more than a superficial level. James’ antics make him more relatable to the average fan and internet user than his peer celebrities.

Despite the incessant teasing, the videos James makes are utterly harmless. His lip-syncing videos are clearly not hurting anyone, and his lies seem to only reflect poorly on himself. Even his mishap with “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” did not have any ill intentions behind it; James simply wanted to show his support for the Black community.

As one of the most recognizable athletes in the world today, James’ actions have a major impact on both the sporting community at large and his millions of fans. The basketball star’s willingness to laugh at the memes instead of becoming upset helps bridge the gap between himself and his supporters — and will hopefully influence his peers to follow suit. For this reason, on the court and off the court, LeBron James is officially the greatest of all time.

Alexander Landgraf, The University of Chicago

Writer Profile

Alexander Landgraf

The University of Chicago
Public Policy, Economics

Alexander Landgraf is a second-year at the University of Chicago. In his free time, he enjoys reading, singing and listening to music.

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