OAKLAND • LeBron James issued a searing and personal response to the discovery of racist graffiti spray-painted outside his Los Angeles home on Wednesday, using a news conference to deliver a sombre soliloquy about race in the United States on the eve of the National Basketball Association (NBA) Finals.
He explicitly placed his social standing as the world's best basketball player ahead of preparations for perhaps the most anticipated series of his career.
"I think back to Emmett Till's mum, actually," James said.
"That's one of the first things I thought of. The reason she had an open casket was that she wanted to show the world what her son went through as far as a hate crime and being black in America.
"No matter how much money you have, no matter how famous you are, no matter how many people admire you, being black in America is tough.
"We've got a long way to go, for us as a society and for us as African-Americans, until we feel equal in America."
Till, a black American, was lynched in 1995 at the age of 14. Till's mother insisted her son's casket be left open at his funeral so the brutality of his death could be seen.
A CHANGE IS NEEDED
No matter how much money you have, no matter how famous you are... being black in America is tough. We've got a long way to go, for us as a society and for us as African-Americans, until we feel equal in America.
LEBRON JAMES, Cleveland Cavaliers forward, on how racism is prevalent in the United States.
Police said the N-word had been spray-painted across the front gate of a US$20 million (S$27.7 million) home James purchased in 2015 in Los Angeles' upscale Brentwood neighbourhood.
The vandalism would be investigated as a hate crime, and security-camera footage from nearby homes would be examined to identify suspects, the police added.
James lives in the house in the off-season, and he and his family were not at home at the time.
But the crime rattled the 32-year-old visibly. At his news conference at Oracle Arena, where his Cleveland Cavaliers will open their title defence in a third consecutive Finals meeting with the Golden State Warriors this morning (Singapore time), he appeared shaken but resolute.
He wore a white T-shirt emblazoned with a photo of Muhammad Ali's face. He measured his words and frequently paused to swallow hard. "Obviously, you see I'm not my normal energetic self," he said.
"At the end of the day, I'll be focused on our game plan. But I'm at a point in my life where my priorities are in place, and basketball comes second to my family."
Team-mates asserted their belief the incident would not affect James, who led the Cavaliers to Cleveland's first championship win last season.
"I know 'Bron. I know how locked in he is," Cavaliers forward Tristan Thompson said.
"Nothing like this is going to affect his psyche in terms of the Finals. Obviously, the world is crazy nowadays. People have bad intentions. We just got to be there for him and know he's a tough guy."