Bowing to China, LeBron Pushes Justice Aside

Lakers Player Opposes Rockets Manager’s Support of Hong Kong Protests

Andrew Mello, News Editor

In public discourse, the opinions and words of those at the top often ring out the loudest. When Muhammad Ali took a stand against the Vietnam War, it was heard around the world. When Kaepernick protested during the national anthem, he knew what he was doing was bigger than football. Now, as the Chinese government holds their iron fist high above the people of Hong Kong, LeBron James has vocally chosen the side of his business, instead of the side of history. Labeling an NBA official’s support of the protests in Hong Kong as “misinformed,” LeBron has found what is actually bigger than basketball: money.

LeBron is placing the business of the NBA and their mutually beneficial relationship with China above the people of Hong Kong.

Just this year, the NBA reached a multi-billion dollar deal with the Chinese government to allow broadcast of NBA games over the country’s foremost state-owned television channel, CCTV. While this deal was being processed, the Chinese government was also making violent efforts to subdue protestors in Hong Kong, calling for, among other things, full democracy and police accountability. The protests stemmed from public outrage at the proposal of a bill that would allow China to further infringe on the sovereignty of Hong Kong. While many public figures seemed to bite their tongues instead of comment on the matter, Daryl Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets, had the misfortune to speak up first. On October 4th, in a now-deleted tweet, he posted: “Fight for freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.”

According to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, the first reaction from China’s officials was a demand for Morey to be fired for his stance, a demand Silver refused, explaining in a press conference, “We are not apologizing for Daryl exercising his freedom of expression.” In the United States, Morey is entitled to a right to freedom of speech. Unfortunately, no such freedom exists in China. The tweet was taken as an attack on the government by a representative of the NBA and treated as such. However, in the fallout of his statement, others were drawn to give their opinion, most notably the “King” himself, LeBron James. Labeling Morey’s comments as “misinformed” not only leaves LeBron on the wrong side of the conflict but also makes himself a hypocrite. In 2016, as Colin Kaepernick knelt during the national anthem, he had everything to lose, and yet he continued his silent protest unhindered. At the time, LeBron knew this, and vocally supported his efforts, saying at the 2019 NBA All-Star weekend, “I think it’s important to stick up for what you believe in, you know what I’m saying?” He later followed up with, “I think with Kap, I stand with Kap, I kneel with Kap.” Words are one thing, but now that it’s up to him to act selflessly, James has taken the easy way out, valuing business over policy.

Considering his value not only as a businessman but almost a brand himself, it might not be fair to compare LeBron to other athletes at his level because there aren’t many who can be called his peers. But by indirectly downplaying Morey’s tweet as “misinformed,” no matter how he spins it, Lebron is giving in to the demands of Xi Jinping and the Chinese government as a whole. With such a simple statement, LeBron is placing the business of the NBA and their mutually beneficial relationship with China above the people of Hong Kong. It’s understandable for Lebron, as a businessman, to choose the position he did. He has endorsements on the line that I’m not sure I could comprehend the pressures of. A while back, LeBron took offense to the words of Fox News host Laura Ingraham and her comment that athletes should, “Shut up and dribble,” criticizing multimillionaire players who weigh in on political issues. Only two years later, it seems he’s finally taken that advice to heart.

This piece also appears in our November 2019 print edition.