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LeBron James’ focus shifted from Finals to racism after vandalism

OAKLAND, Calif.  (AP) —  A day before the start of his seventh straight NBA Finals, LeBron James’ mind was far from focused on basketball and the Golden State Warriors.

He wanted to hug his children and wife back home in Ohio and talk to his two boys directly about racism after a racial slur was spray painted on the front gate to his house in Los Angeles.

LA police were investigating Wednesday as James and the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers prepared for Thursday night’s Game 1 at Golden State. Almost a year after James sat in this very place at Oracle Arena addressing the influence of Muhammad Ali following the heavyweight champion’s death, James discussed the daily challenges of being black in the U.S.

“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,” said James, who was visibly shaken. “We have a long way to go for us as a society and for us as African-Americans until we feel equal in America.”

An unidentified person spray painted the N-word on the front gate of James’ home in the Brentwood neighborhood Wednesday morning, said Capt. Patricia Sandoval, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Police Department. Neither James nor his family was at the home at the time.

The property manager told officers that it is believed the incident was captured on surveillance video, Sandoval said. Police are investigating it as an act of vandalism and a possible hate crime. Someone painted over the slur before officers arrived to investigate, Sandoval said.

“As I sit here on the eve of one of the greatest sporting events that we have in sports, you know, race and what’s going on comes again, and on my behalf and my family’s behalf. But I mean I look at it as, if this is to shed a light and continuing to keep the conversation going on my behalf then I’m OK with it,” James said. “My family is safe, they’re safe and that’s the most important. But it just goes to show that racism will always be a part of the world, a part of America. You know hate in America, especially for African-Americans, is living every day.”

It was difficult for James to think that he won’t be home with his family until next week and he said he would settle instead for a FaceTime call, saying, “It’s kind of killing me right now.” He gave shout outs to his support system for handling some tough conversations to come once his two sons were home from school.

Getting ready for Game 1 had already become a more daunting task with what happened.

“I’m at a point in my life where my priorities are in place,” James said. “Basketball comes second to my family. It actually comes after me continuing to be a role model to the youth and what I do as far as with my foundation. … I will be as focused as I can be on the job at hand tomorrow, but this is a situation where it puts me back in place of what’s actually more important. And basketball is not the most important thing in my life.”

James bought the house in 2015 for more than $20 million. The 9,440-square-foot home is not James’ primary residence. He lives in Bath, Ohio.

In 2015, James and his production company signed a developmental deal with Warner Bros. worth $15 million, an agreement that has him spending more time in Southern California. James spent several weeks in Los Angeles last summer working with his production company.

— AP writers Michael Balsamo in Los Angeles and Tom Withers in Cleveland contributed to this report.

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