- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 3, 2010

Between now and Father’s Day, we’ll know whether Kobe Bryant lifted the Los Angeles Lakers to their 16th NBA title or whether the aging Boston Celtics added an 18th winner-take-all banner to the rafters of the Garden. In the interim, the yakety-yak about LeBron James’ free-agent status is never-ending.

For readers not in the know, James is the Cleveland Cavaliers’ franchise player, a two-time MVP recipient and one of the best all-around players in the NBA. Indeed, at 25, his Hall of Fame fate has been all but sealed.

If you’re interested in learning more about King James, who has yet to marry his consort, feel free to tune into Larry King’s show on CNN Friday night.

For now, enough about LeBron James the NBA star, though. It’s high time somebody talked about LeBron James the unmarried father.

James has two boys by his girlfriend, and while chatter abounds about his “will he stay or will he go” free-agent status, I hear nary a peep about marriage.

That’s oh so sad.

James’ mother, Gloria, gave birth to him when she was only 16. James’ father, well, his father didn’t father LeBron. To read the many biographies and tales on the Internet, James’ wasn’t a good life. He and his young unwed mom lived a hardscrabble existence - until he became Nike’s $90 million man straight out of high school in 2003.

Since then, James has twice joined the ranks of fatherhood without benefit of marriage.

But suppose he weren’t a multimillionaire?

Suppose James was one of the thousands upon thousands of young men who don’t get to “be like Mike” - young men who impregnate young women and then pull a disappearing act? (You know, the kinds of mothers and fathers who helped resurrect Maury Povich’s daytime TV career.)

In 2007, the same year James’ younger son, Bryce, was born, births to unwed mothers reached an all-time high of about 40 percent, and there are signs a trend is just up the road: 64 percent of 15- to 19-year-old boys say childbearing outside of marriage is OK, up 14 percentage points from 2002. That’s according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s newly released National Survey of Family Growth. The researchers conducted in-person interviews of 1,381 girls and 1,386 boys.

There was a time when unwed mothers were socially ostracized, but no more.

These days, unwed moms are given special consideration in secondary schooling and higher education settings, and celebrity dads who haven’t “manned up,” so to speak, are applauded for trotting out their offspring to movie premieres and victory speeches at sporting events.

Nobody’s questioning their moral values (or lack thereof).

We squabble about same-sex marriage and push tons of precious dollars into foster care and adoption programs, and hand out condoms by the boatload. D.C. officials went so far as to begin giving away Trojan Magnum condoms to teens and college students because the other freebies were too small. Tsk, tsk.

How about a hearty push for good old-fashioned traditional marriage?

You know the saying: First comes loves, then comes marriage, then comes LeBron with the baby carriage.

It’s time, folks.

When Barack Obama ran for the White House, he gave a Father’s Day speech encouraging fathers to be fathers.

“We need fathers to realize that responsibility does not end at conception. We need them to realize that what makes you a man is not the ability to have a child - it’s the courage to raise one,” Mr. Obama said in 2008.

It’s never too late.

Right now, James’ sons, LeBron Jr., 5, and Bryce, 2, are too young to care whether their parents are married. But kids grow up so fast.

Before James knows it, his boys will be teenagers - and teens, who can be the orneriest of children, hardly live in an adultless vacuum. What grown-ups do and don’t do is reflected in their attitudes and behaviors.

That’s why James should man up and marry the mother of his children.

He thrives on the chest-bumping, high-fiving, fan-screaming antics on the court. He even told his mother to sit her blankety-blank down when he thought she was being too boisterous during a recent playoff game.

James is apparently being a good father to his boys.

But surely he doesn’t want them to grow up the way he did with an unmarried mom.

c Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.