A week after an NBA executive's Tweet voicing support to Hong Kong protesters set off a multibillion-dollar crisis for the league, one of basketball's most outspoken players has finally spoken out. Referring to the tweet from the Houston Rockets general manager, Lakers superstar Lebron James said, "I don’t want to get into a ... feud with Daryl Morey but I believe he wasn’t educated on the situation at hand and he spoke."
Here's James speaking to reporters on Sunday:
“We all talk about this freedom of speech—yes, we all do have freedom of speech, but at times there are ramifications for the negative, that can happen, um, when you’re not thinking about others, or you’re only thinking about yourself," James said. "So, I don’t believe—I don’t want to get into a word or a sentence feud with Daryl Morey, but I believe he wasn’t educated on the situation at hand, and he spoke. And so many people could have been harmed, not only financially but physically, emotionally, spiritually. So just be careful what we tweet, what we say, and what we do, even though, yes, we do have freedom of speech, but there can be a lot of negative that comes with that, too.”
Earlier in October, Morey had tweeted, "Stand with Hong Kong," to voice his opinion about the increasingly violent protests between Hong Kong residents and China over civil rights. (Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China, with a separate legal system until at least 2047.) However, the tweet was poorly received by mainland Chinese residents who are fans of basketball and the Rockets—a popular team thanks to Yao Ming's 14-year career there—prompting Morey to delete his tweet and apologize that he didn't fully understand the issue, adding, "My tweets are my own and in no way represent the Rockets or the NBA."
The reaction in China was swift: Houston Rockets merchandise was removed and Chinese businesses paused their partnerships with the team and refused to air future games. All media events for the NBA's pre-season games—including those between the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers—in China were canceled, and the Brooklyn Nets' new owner, Chinese-Canadian Joe Tsai, weighed in, essentially saying that no one should comment on the situation—"The problem is, there are certain topics that are third-rail issues in certain countries, societies and communities. Supporting a separatist movement in a Chinese territory is one of those third-rail issues, not only for the Chinese government, but also for all citizens in China."
There are about 500 million basketball fans in China, and many players visit the country as part of brand partnerships to promote shoes or other products.
Many were hoping James would offer a perspective representative of his history as a vocal civil rights activist. When Fox News personality Laura Ingraham said basketball players like James, who voiced their displeasure with President Donald Trump, should just "shut up and dribble," James said her remarks were racist and that he and his colleagues "will definitely not shut up and dribble."
After his remarks about Morey's tweet, James tried to clear things up:
The Wall Street Journal's Jason Gay analyzed James' comments.
A moment like this was coming, of course. As soon as the NBA allowed a media lid on its Lakers/Nets China trip, it put enormous pressure on players once they returned stateside, no more so than James. Everyone knew he was going to get asked about this. I think that’s what was so baffling about his ramble before the cameras—here is an athlete with not just a platform, but an expectation that he will set a tone on non-basketball topics. He willingly shoulders that responsibility; James can dictate how the rest of the NBA responds to an issue. And while he may not feel as confident wading into geopolitics as he does matters closer to home, he could have done a whole lot better. His hedging fuels the suspicion that the league’s—and some of the media’s—tiptoe on this topic is, indeed, all about protecting the money.
The NBA's regular season starts on October 22nd.