Lakers superstar LeBron James faced fierce backlash after appearing to side with communist China over pro-democracy Hong Kong protesters by criticizing Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey for his October 4 tweet, which said “Fight for freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.”
Morey’s tweet set off an international incident, as China does not tolerate dissident speech and is the NBA’s second-largest market. In China, there were boycotts of NBA games and merchandise.
James ripped Morey for “not thinking about others” and not being “educated” on the situation in China:
“Yes, we do all have freedom of speech, but at times there are ramifications for the negative that can happen when you’re not thinking about others and you’re only thinking about yourself. 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. 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. There can be a lot of negative that comes with that too.”
James’s comments sparked immediate outrage, with people worldwide accusing the star and the NBA at large of kowtowing to an oppressive authoritarian communist regime for profit motives:
LeBron attempted damage control by tweeting that he and the NBA “just went through a difficult week” and that he was “not discussing the substance” or the China-Hong Kong conflict:
The NBA has long been known as a league in which players are free and encouraged to speak their minds about complex social issues. James, for instance, has been a frequent critic of perceived racism and police brutality in the U.S., as well as a vocal opponent of President Trump.