Sport and politics definitely don’t mix, according to AC Milan star Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who has advised NBA icon LeBron James to stay in his lane and “do what he’s good at.”
Ibrahimovic, 39, spent two seasons in the US with the LA Galaxy, bringing his supersized ego with him and making his mark on the pitch with some spectacular strikes.
The giant Swede has since returned to Milan, where he continues to defy his advanced years with 14 goals in 13 Serie A appearances this season as he drives his team into title contention.
But despite having left the US behind, Ibrahimovic had some words of advice to a fellow sporting icon still illuminating the West Coast – LA Lakers star James.
James, 36, is as high-profile off the court as he is on it, getting entangled in online feuds with former President Donald Trump and being a vocal supporter of causes such as Black Lives Matter.
Ibrahimovic, however, has claimed that James should steer clear of political games and concentrate on what he does best on the court.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic uppskattar basketspelaren Lebron James men tycker inte att han ska lägga sig i politiken: “Lebron är fenomenal på det han gör, men jag gillar inte när folk med status lägger sig i politik” Lång intervju med Zlatan Ibrahimovic: https://t.co/oXm5gjmhKvpic.twitter.com/J3L82GWLD6
— discovery+ sport 🇸🇪 (@dplus_sportSE) February 25, 2021
“[LeBron] is phenomenal at what he’s doing, but I don’t like when people have some kind of status, they go and do politics at the same time,” Ibrahimovic said in an interview with UEFA and Discovery+.
“Do what you’re good at. Do the category you do. I play football because I’m the best in playing football. I don’t do politics. If I would be a politician, I would do politics.
“That is the big first mistake people do when they become famous and they become in a certain status. Stay out of it. Just do what you do best because it doesn’t look good.”
The comments echo those of Fox News host Laura Ingraham back in 2018, who famously told four-time NBA champion James to “shut up and dribble” after he criticized Trump.
James has frequently rejected calls to remain silent, vowing to continue to push for the various causes he promotes as well as being a vociferous supporter of new US President Joe Biden.
Ibrahimovic’s comments split opinion online, with one response telling the football star to “respectfully shut the f*ck up” as he could supposedly never understand the reality of life for black Americans.
“LeBron uses his platform to fight against inequality and does so much good in his community. Zlatan Ibrahimovich [sic] is a 40-year-old that uses his platform to call himself a lion,” scoffed another response.
LeBron uses his platform to fight against inequality and does so much good in his community. Zlatan Ibrahimovich is a 40 year old that uses his platform to call himself a lion.
— Dylan (@DylanPF__) February 26, 2021
“We don’t care what bro thinks unfortunately,” wrote another James fan.
Some claimed that people were missing the point and that Ibrahimovic wasn’t talking about initiatives such as anti-racism campaigns, but rather was pointing specifically to sports stars making overt political endorsements.
“I could be wrong here, but pretty sure a lot of you are missing the point he’s making,” read one tweet.
“He’s not talking about condemning racism or injustice. He’s talking about athletes, celebrities, etc. publicly endorsing politicians/political parties. And he’s probably right.”
I could be wrong here, but pretty sure a lot of you are missing the point he’s making here. He’s not talking about condemning racism or injustice. He’s talking about athletes, celebrities, etc. publicly endorsing politicians/political parties. And he’s probably right.
— Wardy (@thundergunnerwi) February 26, 2021
“He’s dead right,” read another succinct comment in support of the Swedish star’s stance.
Others accused James of hypocrisy, citing the NBA star’s silence over the issue of democracy in China and Hong Kong back in 2019 as the league played exhibition games in the country.
It’s true.. man talks about oppression and equality but got mad at Daryl Morey calling out China. 😂😂 They’re doing far worse things than what’s happening in the US rn but that’d hurt his pockets.
— Avgvstvs Germanicvs † (@SaintParisXVI) February 25, 2021
Other fans defended Ibrahimovic as knowing what discrimination looks like first-hand, writing: “He grew up as a Slav in Sweden. He was discriminated against, he had a tough childhood, he was poor, low class, difficult family life, rarely enough to eat: football was his ticket out. And he made it. I think he has a right to speak.”
He grew up as a Slav in Sweden. He was discriminated against, he had a tough childhood, he was poor, low class, difficult family life, rarely enough to eat: football was his ticket out. And he made it. I think he has a right to speak.
— Caleb Hill (@c_el_il7) February 26, 2021
Ibrahimovic’s comments on James were not the only aspect of his interview with UEFA and Discovery+ to make headlines.
The Swede also weighed in on the debate over football’s greatest ever player, selecting Brazilian icon Ronaldo as his pick.
“I always tell everyone who plays with me: Ronaldo is football. That Ronaldo is football,” said Ibrahimovic.
“The way he moved, the way he did those stepovers, those mazy runs. In my view, he is the best player in history, no doubt about it.”