LeBron the Next Michael Jordon? That's Not a Compliment.

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Amidst the whirlwind of pro-LeBron coverage and commentary leading up to tonight’s NBA Finals opener, a couple of folks have taken the opportunity to needle James on one small, albeit global and actually huge, issue. It stems from Cavs guard Ira Newble’s newfound interest in the Darfur conflict. It was reported last month that Newble was collecting signatures from NBA players for a letter to the Chinese government, the host of the 2008 Olympics and one of the Sudanese government’s chief enablers. James and guard Damon Jones, it turned out, were the only Cavs to not sign the petition. James said he didn’t have enough information; Jones didn’t comment. But the reasons were obvious: Much of James’ bread is buttered by Nike, which does major business in China. And Jones somehow turned his eratic shot and goofball personality into an endorsement deal with an up-and-coming Chinese shoe company. It’s hard to imagine anything happening to either athlete – especially James -- for taking a stand on, say, genocide. But they didn’t, and James is catching some heat. The Christian Science Monitor called the move “cowardly.” And in a column for Slate, former Sports Illustrated and Esquire sportswriter Charles P. Pierce, who profiled James in 2005, says off-the-court LeBron is starting to resemble Michael Jordan, who “wrote the book on how to become a wildly popular and successful athlete without demonstrating even the sliver of a public conscience.” – Joe P. Tone

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