On page 190 of the new book "Hellbound On His Trail" -- Hampton Sides' brilliant account of the international manhunt of James Earl Ray following the assassination of Martin Luther King -- a then 26-year-old Jesse Jackson gives a statement to a Memphis reporter at the Lorraine Motel just minutes after the shooting of the civil rights giant.
"People were, uh, some were in pandemonium, some in shock, some were hollering 'Oh God,' " Jackson told the reporter. "And I immediately started running upstairs to where he was. And I caught his head. And I tried to feel his head. I asked him, 'Dr. King, do you hear me? Dr. King, do you hear me?' And he didn't say anything. And I tried to -- to hold his head. But by then …"
Riveting stuff that must have been hard to talk about. Only there was one little problem with what Jackson said. It wasn't true. By every account, Jackson was either hiding behind a swimming pool's privacy wall or not seen at all when the fatal shot was fired at Dr. King.
And as every other member of the King's inner circle stayed in Memphis in the days following the murder, Jackson quickly left for Chicago, where he hired a PR agent and told a national audience in an interview on the "Today" show that he was the last person to speak to Martin Luther King.
James Bevel, an adviser to Dr. King, said about Jackson's behavior in the days after the shooting: "To prostitute and lie about the crucifixion of a prophet within a race for the sake of one's own self-aggrandizement is the most gruesome crime a man can commit."
So in 1968, in the midst of a national tragedy that threatened to tear the country apart, Jesse Jackson was a camera-hogging opportunist with seemingly zero regard for anything but his own agenda.
Forty-two years later and it's nice to see that some things never change.
Now, of course, I'm in no way comparing the assassination of Martin Luther King with LeBron James making "The Decision." Not even LeBron's ego would allow that massive leap, though his entourage would need no convincing.
But what is similar is how Jesse Jackson has tried to throw himself right into the middle of the chaos once again. He just can't help himself. It's been that way for 42 years.
On Sunday Jackson, in a statement released through his Chicago-based Rainbow PUSH Coalition, said that the feelings of Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert "personify a slave master mentality. He sees LeBron as a runaway slave."
I'm a white guy. Really, really white. So I'm always more than a little worried to jump into any matter involving race. Why? Because I have no clue most of the time. But you and I and Jesse Jackson and LeBron James and Dan Gilbert know that this whole Cleveland to Miami move has nothing to do with race. It's got a lot more to do with the three W's -- winning, Wade and weather.
But Jesse Jackson is now an old man. He's doing his best to cling on to any shred to relevancy. And there's always one card he's willing and able to play, relevancy be damned.
Now I'm on record as saying that if I were a Cavs fan last Thursday my first wish would have been for LeBron to stay in Cleveland (duh). But if that didn't happen, I'd want my owner to come out and destroy LeBron James. Call him out for stringing a city along for months, a city that needed him to stay -- here's that word again -- relevant in the world of sports. LeBron was all Cleveland had. And he left them for a better-looking girl. And P.S.? He didn't exactly do it in a way that endeared himself to anyone outside of Miami, much less the poor folks in Ohio. So, yeah, I'd want some serious Howard Beale wacko stuff from my owner last Thursday night after sitting through that Stuart Scott 73-minute tongue bath.
And the Cavs fan sure got it. Gilbert called LeBron a quitter, and called his decision to leave cowardly.
"People have covered up for [James] for too long," Gilbert told the AP. "Tonight [Thursday] we saw who he really is."
Now I understand there is plenty to ways to blast Gilbert in this whole mess. If you want to write that he came across a whiny, spoiled, immature and jilted rich boy that's OK. I agree with most of that, actually. And you can also argue that he would have been better off spending all this energy putting together the kind of supporting cast and coaching staff that might have led LeBron to at least consider sticking around. Also a fair point.
If Jesse Jackson had written that -- you know, the truth -- I would be applauding him today. But Jesse doesn't let the truth get in the way of an agenda.
Can someone explain to me how Dan Gilbert has a "slave owner mentality?" He paid James tens of millions of dollars and was more than ready to give him another $130 million or so. He gave members of LeBron's entourage jobs in the organization, gave other friends of LeBron pretty much carte blanche around Quicken Loans Arena. LeBron got everything he wanted for seven years, which might help explain the ego-puffed fella sitting across from Jim Gray last week. Gilbert is as guilty as anyone not named LeBron when the blame is handed out for why James isn't in Cleveland today.
An enabler? Sure. A guy that wants to be close to stars (you know the term I want to write)? You bet.
But a slave-owner? I'm going to have to call Jesse out on this one. The problem is that Jackson has no credibility. Everything in his world is about race. And it's always one side vs. another. Maybe he simply doesn't understand why the fans in Cleveland were "burning his jersey in effigy," as he wrote on Sunday. He wrote how that spoke of a larger danger to LeBron, and how Gilbert was to blame for that potential danger.
Doesn't matter that the fans were burning the shirts before Gilbert's statement was released. Again, that's another fact just getting in the way.
One last thing. I actually saw this whole "Hey look at me!" move from Jackson as an opportunity for LeBron. This is a guy who is now Public Enemy No. 1 in the sports world. Think about it. Outside of Miami, who likes LeBron James? He was never beloved nationally (we can smell a phony usually, and there was plenty of evidence) but everyone was OK with him, right? But today he stands above A-Rod and Kobe and Favre. And he'll never recover, but a nice step would have been to blast the statement from Jesse. Just a simple press release, something along the lines of "Dan Gilbert and I have had problems, but to compare him to a slave owner -- or me to a slave -- is outrageous. My house in Akron is 40,000 square feet -- about the size of a Best Buy. It has a movie theater, a casino, a recording studio. Rev. Jackson, I'm sure, has studied enough history to know the difference between my choosing between the Heat and Cavs-- and Mr. Gilbert's subsequent overreaction-- and what happened during the era of slavery. I would feel more comfortable if Rev. Jackson focused on the fact that the percentage of players in the NBA that are black is around 82% but just eight out the 30 head coaches are black. What is the reason for that?"
Wouldn't you love to see that? But that statement, or anything close to it, will never come out of the James camp. They would never go near it. It's almost amazing how badly they have allowed James to go from where he was to where he is, in terms of public perception. That's where a team of yes men will get you every time.
Maybe Carmelo Anthony will handle it better next year, when his time comes.
But there's one thing we know for sure.
Jesse Jackson will be ready to speak, no matter how out of place it might seem.
It's who he is.