Basketball megastar LeBron James has jumped into the NBA vs. China fray with both feet, suggesting that Houston GM Daryl Morey had been ignorant to express his support for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters, while apparently failing to stop and consider whether he was, in fact, saying something deeply ignorant himself.
(Just give us a second to savor the sweet, sweet irony… Mmmm, that’s good irony.)
The Los Angeles Lakers star criticized the Rockets manager, saying he was “misinformed” and needed to be educated after Morey tweeted his support for the Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters, setting off a furious response from the mainland and a hasty, kowtowing response (belatedly backtracked) from the league, which has tremendous interests in the mainland market.
“I don’t want to get into a word or sentence feud with Daryl Morey” — James began, before immediately appearing to initiate just such a word-and-sentence feud — “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, and spiritually, so just be careful with what we tweet, and we say, and we do.
“Yes, we do have freedom of speech, but there can be a lot of negative that comes with that too.”
James added that Morey was thinking only of himself when he made his comment.
“There are ramifications for the negative that can happen when not thinking about others, when you are only thinking about yourself,” he said.
Despite James’s low opinion of Morey’s purportedly selfish stance on Hong Kong, he didn’t appear to take into consideration himself the feelings of the literally millions of Hongkongers who have taken to the streets to push back against what they perceive as the mainland’s increasing erosion of the semi-autonomous city’s special freedoms.
(This from the same man who just last year was tweeting Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous dictum that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Oh, baby, there’s that irony again!)
James’s Lakers and the Brooklyn Nets were inadvertently thrust into the controversy when the clubs arrived in China last week to play two exhibition games amidst turmoil after Morey tweeted, “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.”
James, it should be mentioned, also has a lifetime endorsement deal worth tens of millions with Nike, which does big business in China. James has made about a dozen trips to China with Nike.
As with other brands’ sometimes-obsequious efforts to avoid giving the notoriously sensitive mainland market offense, James’s remarks drew torrents of ridicule and scorn from netizens.
LeBron to Adam Silver: “Don’t worry, I’m about to end this China mess.” pic.twitter.com/gtuAga9Mfw
— Clay Travis (@ClayTravis) October 15, 2019
One of those to get in on the fun was dissident artist Badiucao, who posted a new illustration of James with tattoos of Chinese President Xi Jinping on either shoulder, and a jersey heralding the Laker as a proud member of the “Beijing Money Lickers.”
Dear lebron James @KingJame welcome join #BeijingLickers ！ I hope you like your new fit and tatoo.
Oh I also select ur new favorite number 11. You know 11 for XI in Roman numerals.
My toon on Leborn‘s kowtow statement about NBA and China. #StandwithHK #FreedomHK pic.twitter.com/w63S96EitJ
— 巴丢草 Badiucao (@badiucao) October 15, 2019
Much of the criticism has been of the money-over-principles ilk.
“You should speak out against oppression no matter what. Lebron should know that as he’s done it a lot,” one user said. “But the people in China are legitimately oppressed by their government.”
But perhaps the most pointed rebuke — in the form of a sly “sub-tweet” — came from Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter, who hails from Turkey and has been an outspoken critic of the increasingly autocratic regime of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“Wow dude!” Kanter exclaimed in an apparent reaction to James’s remarks, before going on to enumerate the numerous and staggering ways in which he had been punished by Turkey over his political stance.
-Haven’t seen or talked to my family 5 years
-Jailed my dad
-My siblings can’t find jobs
-Revoked my passport
-International arrest warrant
-My family can’t leave the country
-Got Death Threats everyday
-Got attacked, harassed
-Tried to kidnap me in Indonesia
FREEDOM IS NOT FREE
— Enes Kanter (@EnesKanter) October 15, 2019
Kanter even threw in a puke-y face emoji for good measure.
Meanwhile, back in Hong Kong, people haven’t forgotten about ol’ Daryl Morey (even if he probably wishes they had).
Calls are circulating online for people to join a “Stand with Morey” protest at Southorn Playground in Wan Chai tonight in support of the Rockets manager, who hasn’t tweeted since carefully explaining on Oct. 7 that his initial tweet wasn’t meant to offend “Rockets fans and friends of mine in China.”
— HongKongers 😷 (@HongKongers8) October 13, 2019