A day after telling the media that free speech has negative consequences, professional basketball athlete LeBron James said he will no longer comment on China or free speech. James has previously expressed his disappointment of basketball executive Daryl Morey’s tweet supportive of the anti-Chinese government protests in Hong Kong, calling Morey “misinformed.”
Morey works as a general manager for the Houston Rockets National Basketball Association (NBA) franchise and deleted the tweet after it was publicized in the news. Morey’s boss, Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta, said the Rockets are not a political organization and the tweet represented Morey’s personal views. The NBA office initially said they apologize for any Chinese fan who was offended by Morey’s tweet, then NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said that they are apologetic about the tweet yet will defend Morey’s right to free speech. Other NBA athletes refrained from commenting on China, in addition to coaches such as Steve Kerr and Gregg Popovich.
Protesters in Hong Kong said that his comments on free speech were hurtful and some burned basketball jerseys with his name on it. It is safe to say James made enemies and turned off fans of his among the pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.
James told the media that he will focus on winning his team, the Los Angeles Lakers, a championship this season and will not address China or free speech. He said, “I’d be cheating my teammates by continuing to harp on something that won’t benefit us trying to win a championship because that’s what we’re here for. We’re not politicians. I think it’s a huge political thing but we are leaders and we can step up at times. But … you don’t feel like you should speak upon things you shouldn’t have to.”
He added that international political issues are not his primary concern and he will be focusing on domestic issues, saying, “There’s things that happen in my own community — trying to help my kids graduate high school and go off to college — what’s been my main concern over the last couple years — and my school. Trying to make sure the inner city kids that grew up in my hometown can have a brighter future and look at me as inspiration to get out of the hellhole of the inner city. And we don’t talk about those stories enough.”
The media has done an adequate job highlighting James’s hypocrisy and silence on China and free speech. For example, CNN’s article said, “LeBron James has long spoken out on social justice issues, but appeared to side with silence Monday when he criticized Morey over the latter’s tweet supporting Hong Kong protesters.”
USA Today did a much better job, telling readers that James has significant business ties in China. The newspaper said, “He just made his 15th trip to China after making annual visits with Nike to Beijing, Guangzhou, Shenzen, Shanghai, Wuhan and Xi’an to promote both his shoe and the game. He has also hosted a coaching clinic (2011), a Nike event that encouraged sports participation (2012), the Nike Rise program (2014-15) and a clinic for China’s Under-23 national team (2016).”
As a result of the tweet and fallout, multiple sponsorships and partnerships with Chinese companies were rescinded, and the NBA’s preseason games in China were not televised. A charity event, held by the NBA, was also canceled, and players’ media availability was also nixed.
So far, it appears that Morey will not be disciplined by the NBA, which upset James. James blasted Morey’s tweet as “misinformed” and said, “I just think that when you’re misinformed or you’re not educated about something — and I’m just talking about the tweet itself — you never know the ramifications that can happen. We all see what that did — not only for our league but for all of us in America, for people in China as well.” James also said that “there can be a lot of negative that comes with” free speech.
James later backtracked his comments on social media, saying, “Let me clear up the confusion. I do not believe there was any consideration for the consequences and ramifications of the tweet. I’m not discussing the substance. Others can talk about that.”