LeBron James weighed in on the controversy between China and the NBA on Monday, saying that Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey “wasn’t educated” when he sent a tweet in support of protesters in Hong Kong this month.
Morey’s tweet of support for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong on Oct. 4 set off a firestorm, prompting Chinese sponsors and partners to cut ties with the league and the National Basketball Association to answer difficult questions about free speech.
“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 when you’re not thinking about others,” James told reporters before the Lakers’ preseason game against Golden State in California.
“I don’t want to get into a word or sentence feud with Daryl,” he added. “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 and what we say and what we do. Even though yes, we do have freedom of speech, it can be a lot of negative that comes with it.”
When asked to clarify his thoughts, James went further.
“I believe [Morey] was either misinformed or not really educated on the situation, and if he was, then so be it,” James said. “But I have no idea. That’s just my belief. When you say things or do things, you’re doing it and you know the people that can be affected by it, and the families and the individuals and everyone that can be affected by it. Sometimes things can be challenging as well. Also sometimes, social media is not always the proper way to go about things as well. But that’s just my belief.”
Not long after the media session, James took to Twitter to continue talking.
“Let me clear up the confusion. I do not believe there was any consideration for the consequences and ramifications of the tweet,” James said. “I’m not discussing the substance. Others can talk About that.”
Left, right and center
James’ tweets and statement have set off their own firestorm, with basketball fans in the United States and China sounding off.
On Twitter, many users responded to his statement with anger. “Weak,” said one user. Others simply posted emoji of bags of money.
New York Times NBA writer Sopan Deb called James’ comments jaw-dropping.
My jaw literally dropped at this answer. Unbelievable. https://t.co/sXS938ySyT
— Sopan Deb (@SopanDeb) October 15, 2019
Liberal Times opinion columnist Nicholas Kirstof, who has reported from China, said he was: “Sad to see LeBron James side with the Chinese Communist Party as it tries to crush the Hong Kong democracy movement.”
Turkish Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter sought to school James on the perils of autocracy.
-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
Some scoffed as James’ suggestion that Morey may be “uneducated,” noting that the executive earned graduate degree from MIT, whereas James did not attend college.
LeBron James with a high school diploma in education saying that a person with degrees from Northwestern University and MIT in Daryl Morey was “uneducated” on the situation is all time head scratcher pic.twitter.com/5KCPMCuAQ7
— Barstool Drew (@BarstoolDW) October 15, 2019
A number of Twitter users deemed James’s comments among the NBA’s worst yet on Hong Kong and the dumbest” of James’ career.
Jordan: “Republicans buy sneakers too.”
LeBron: “Communists buy sneakers too.”
Defending an oppressive communist regime over democracy, & calling Northwestern alum Morey “uneducated.”
Dumbest thing he’s done since trying to trademark “Taco Tuesday.”
— Not Jerry Tipton (@NotJerryTipton) October 15, 2019
Like many conservatives, commentator Jesse Kelly faulted liberal bias rather than lack of education.
“You think LeBron loves communists now, just think how bad it would be if he’d gone to college,” he quipped.
Writer Ryan Saavedra added substance to the accusations of hypocrisy.
LeBron James last year: pic.twitter.com/EEgLsbkb5J
— Ryan Saavedra (@RealSaavedra) October 15, 2019
Others had jokes.
— Steven Cheung (@CaliforniaPanda) October 15, 2019
But China hails Lebron James for his Hong Kong comments
On the other side of China’s Great Firewall, netizens weighed in to support James, whose statements were trending on Weibo, China’s equivalent to Twitter, and Douyin, a popular short video platform owned by Bytedance Ltd.
“My James is being attacked by Americans, Americans believe Morey should be supported, and James’ words are basically opposing Morey,” said one user on Weibo. “Sigh, I love you James, hope you can continue to be healthy and play ball!”
The Lakers played two exhibition games in China against the Brooklyn Nets last week, but the NBA canceled media availability for the teams during the trip.
A Rockets staff member also shut down a CNN reporter in Tokyo last week while trying to ask players a question about the controversy.
The league later apologized to the reporter in a statement.
James is one of the few NBA representatives to speak openly about the contention, joining liberal coaches Steve Kerr of the Warriors and Gregg Popovich of the San Antonia Spurs.
“My team and this league just went through a difficult week,” he tweeted on Monday. “I think people need to understand what a tweet or statement can do to others. And I believe nobody stopped and considered what would happen. Could have waited a week to send it.”
(Reporting by Jahmal Corner, Huizhong Wu in Beijing and Pluralist.)