Both NBA and Chinese officials were hoping tensions around Rockets GM Daryl Morey’s Tweet about Hong Kong protesters would start to fade with the Lakers and Nets out of China, and the new NBA season set to begin in less than a week. There seemed to be a desire to just get back to business as usual.
Then on Monday, LeBron James re-ignited the controversy telling reporters he believed Morey was “misinformed” and “not educated” on the topic. Whatever he intended to stay, LeBron’s statement came off as putting money in front of free speech rights, even as LeBron tried to clarify and say he was just referring to Morey not being aware of the ramifications of his Tweet. It led to a backlash in the United States and LeBron’s jersey being burned in Hong Kong.
Tuesday LeBron spoke again on the topic — to say this would be the last time he discusses it. He wants to focus o basketball. Via Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.
Saying this would be the last time he addressed the turmoil between China and the NBA that resulted from Morey’s Oct. 4 tweet, James said he hopes tension between the parties will subside over time.
“I plan on being here and being a captain of this team and trying to figure out how we can win a championship,” James said when asked whether he plans to learn more about the anti-government protests in Hong Kong…
“I’d be cheating my teammates by continuing to harp on something that won’t benefit us. We’re trying to win a championship. That’s what we’re here for. We’re not politicians. It’s a huge political thing. But we are leaders and we can step up at times. I’m not saying at this particular time, but if you don’t feel like you should speak on things, you shouldn’t have to.”
Monday night, LeBron sounded like a man frustrated he and other players had been thrust into the middle of a complex geopolitical struggle between the world’s two biggest powers, sides that already engaged in a trade war. Which he has every right to be frustrated about, especially since he and other top stars make a chunk of money off shoe and other apparel sales in China. How LeBron expressed that frustration made things worse.
LeBron eventually joined Adam Silver and the rest of the NBA in hoping this controversy will go away — and it will. For a while. Eventually — maybe in a couple of weeks, maybe in a couple of years — it will flare up again on a different front. There will still be human rights violations in China, and economic tensions between there and the United States are not going away anytime soon. If the NBA is going to do business in China, it’s going to have to deal with some variation of this situation again.
Next time expect the NBA at least to be better prepared with a response.