CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- From the moment LeBron James emerged a bit earlier than usual from the visitors' training room in Time Warner Cable Arena with his ankles taped, dressed in warm-up gear and with his headband in place, it was clear he was looking for a fight.
The Charlotte Bobcats would eventually become the target for James' aggression and focus.
But at the moment, the NBA's four-time MVP and preeminent superstar took aim elsewhere to unleash some pent-up frustrations with a disturbing development in these playoffs. As tepid reactions to alleged racist comments made by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling trickled in from around the league, there was absolutely no confusion as to where James stood on the matter.
"There is no room for Donald Sterling in our league," James said, both sternly and stoically before the Heat's 98-85 win in Game 3 of the Heat's first-round playoff series against the Bobcats. "There is no room for him."
Before attempting to comprehend the magnitude of James' comments, try to understand this matchup.
This, for all intents and purposes, is the league's most powerful and influential player calling out one of the NBA's richest and longest-tenured owners. It's the game's most polarizing and criticized athlete demanding new league commissioner Adam Silver take sharp and swift action to punish arguably the NBA's most despised and controversial owner.
In an era in which athletes are worth hundreds of millions of dollars and are as committed to protecting their brand image as they are meeting expectations on the playing field, there are very few risk takers. The Muhammad Alis, Jim Browns and Bill Russells of the turbulent 1960s have largely given way to the more lucrative, largely silent and easily marketed superstars like Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan.
There was a bit of irony in how, when and where James took one of the boldest stands of his career Saturday. He was playing a Bobcats team owned by Jordan, the league's lone African-American majority owner, who sat at the end of his team's bench with his chin resting on his folded hands.
Jordan, according to Bobcats team officials, declined to comment on the Sterling issue Saturday, and, while it's unfair to suggest Jordan never during his playing days would have made the type of public comments James aimed at Sterling, James never seemed concerned with any potential backlash or repercussions.
James broke down Sterling's alleged racist comments the way he does opposing defenses.
"Obviously, if the reports are true, it's unacceptable," James said of the TMZ report that centered on Sterling's comments to his girlfriend during a private, but recorded, conversation. "It doesn't matter if you're white, black, Hispanic, whatever. All across the races, it's unacceptable." In trying to empathize with close friend and Clippers star point guard Chris Paul, James said he couldn't imagine the disgust that team's players must feel. Amid speculation that some Clippers players were considering taking some type of unified action against Sterling, James took matters a step further and suggested it would be very difficult to play for an owner under the circumstances.