As NBA-China tweet rift continues, LeBron James enters spotlight

As NBA-China tweet rift continues, LeBron James enters spotlight

Monday’s comments unleashed an immediate backlash against James

LeBron James has stepped into the spotlight of the now-strained relationship between the NBA and China with his comments about the league executive who started the ongoing fallout with what James derided as a “misinformed” tweet. Politicians, human rights groups and ordinary fans on social media have criticized the outspoken superstar, questioning the motivation of James’ comments.

James spoke out Monday, his seven-minute session with reporters putting him squarely in the centre of the ongoing international schism. Houston general manager Daryl Morey was “not really educated on the situation,” James asserted, when he sent out that since-deleted Oct. 4 tweet showing support for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests.

On Tuesday, James acknowledged the criticism — and said he expected that it would be coming.

“Obviously, it’s a tough situation that we’re all in right now, … I think when an issue comes up, if you feel passionate about it or you feel like it’s something you want to talk about, then so be it,” James said. “I also don’t think that every issue should be everybody’s problem as well.”

Monday’s comments unleashed an immediate backlash against James, who has often spoken out on social and political matters, with some expressing dismay that this time he seemed to be more concerned about protecting his own brand and financial interests in China, where he enjoys enormous popularity.

“I’ve always been welcomed with open arms,” James said. “I’ve been to China probably 15 to 20 times … to have this beautiful game that we all love to be able to bring people together in the most positive way.”

ALSO READ: NBA, South Park, games company swept up in China censorship fury

That is not the case right now. James was in China for the two games last week between his Los Angeles Lakers and the Brooklyn Nets that were played under most unusual circumstances — with no pregame or postgame media sessions, first by decree of the Chinese and then from the NBA, and with several major league Chinese partners pulling their support of the exhibitions.

With the Lakers and Nets now home, the rift and debate about what the league should have done continues, reinvigorated by James speaking out.

“The situation … has flaredup again,” said Matt Powell, a sports business analyst at research firm The NPD Group. “LeBron is getting a lot of criticism on social media.”

It wasn’t limited to the Twitter world, either.

Protesters in Hong Kong on Tuesday trampled on James’ jerseys, burning one, and threw basketballs at a photo of the four-time NBA MVP — a global sports icon whose image has taken a clear hit.

Among James’ comments Monday night, his first publicly shared thoughts on the matter: “So many people could have been harmed, not only financially but emotionally, physically and spiritually” by Morey’s tweet.

That fanned the fallout fire, including from U.S. lawmakers who said they believed the NBA’s primary goal had been to protect the league’s massive financial interest when it comes to its relationship with China instead of more vigorously defending Morey’s right to free speech.

Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, a frequent critic of James, tweeted both Monday night and again Tuesday morning about the NBA star’s comments, accusing him of “kowtowing to Communist China.” The office of Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska also tweeted at James, saying “you’re parroting communist propaganda.”

Morey has not apologized, and has not said anything publicly since two tweets on Oct. 6 attempting to clarify his thinking.

At a media availability on Tuesday, several Rockets players and coach Mike D’Antoni declined to say much of anything about James’ comments.

“I haven’t seen it,” Rockets star guard James Harden told reporters.

Rockets centre Tyson Chandler, who was James’ teammate on the Lakers last season, also passed on expressing an opinion.

“I think again everybody’s thoughts are their own,” Chandler told reporters. “I think LeBron’s (are) his, Daryl’s (are) his and I like to stay out of people’s thoughts.”

Teammate forward Thabo Sefolosha, who was born in Switzerland and is in his first year with the Rockets, did touch briefly on the free-speech issue. “Everybody is entitled to their opinion, entitled to what they want to say. That’s the beauty about this country.”

China is considered the fastest-growing market for Nike, with whom James has a lifetime endorsement deal. In the most recent fiscal year, its revenue from China jumped 21% from the previous year, while overall, sales in China made up 16% of Nike’s total revenue.

James has often spoken out on issues he feels passionate about. When he played in Miami, he and other Heat players wore hoodies in reaction to the death of Trayvon Martin — an unarmed black teen who was wearing a hoodie when he was shot dead by a neighbourhood watch volunteer in Florida in 2012.

He also has supported Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who began kneeling during the national anthem in an effort to raise awareness of racial oppression and police brutality. He’s a frequent critic of President Donald Trump, campaigned for 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and most recently sat with California Gov. Gavin Newsom as the Democrat signed into law a bill that will allow college athletes in that state to hire agents and make money from endorsement deals.

Newsom signed that bill while appearing on a special episode of HBO’s “The Shop: Uninterrupted” — part of James’ off-court business empire. James is also the founder of a school for inner-city kids in his hometown of Akron, Ohio.

James said his reaction to Morey’s tweet, which read “Fight For Freedom: Stand With Hong Kong” before it was deleted within hours as the Chinese backlash grew, was not about its substance. Rather, he wrote, it was his belief that the Rockets’ executive did not consider the ramifications — or the timing, while he and his teammates were in China.

“My team and this league just went through a difficult week. 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,” he wrote on Twitter.

Tim Reynolds And Greg Beacham, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Members of the community garden hosted their first seed swap and fundraiser at the Greenwood Mall in Sparwood on Monday. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)
Sparwood Community Garden hosts first seed swap

Work on the garden at Engelmann Spruce Drive will begin soon

Crews and volunteers responded to a four-hectare wildfire on the lower half of the Aqam community lands near Cranbrook on Friday afternoon. Trevor Crawley photo.
Wildfire season gets early start in the East Kootenay

Fire crews, volunteers respond to two local wildfires, while prescribed burns turn weekend skies smoky

A conceptual image of a multi-family housing development envisioned by Abugov Kaspar Architects to go on a lot in Castle Mountain in Fernie. (Image courtesy of City of Fernie)
City defers zoning decision

A zoning change would permit a development with 15 percent rental tenure residences in Castle Mountain

Rob and Jennifer King run Sasquatch Cyclery out of their garage. (Soranne Floarea/ The Free Press)
‘Hop on it now’: Parts crunch hits cycling

New bikes are hard to get and used bikes are selling at a premium this year

Michel-Natal-Sparwood Heritage Society runs a museum that was established to display the heritage of the "no-longer towns" of Michel and Natal, and the Elk Valley Area. Photo Submitted/Monica Beranek, Artifact Curator
Sparwood Museum requests a leg up to stay open full-time

The museum is volunteer-run, but needs a full-time employee to be able to snag much-needed grants

Sunday’s storm rocked one of the ferries crossing Kootenay Lake. Photo: Dirk Jonker
VIDEO: Storm makes for wild ferry ride across Kootenay Lake

The video was captured by ferry employee Dirk Jonker

Dr. Bonnie Henry gives her daily media briefing regarding Covid-19 for the province of British Columbia in Victoria, B.C, Monday, December 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
BREAKING: Toddler marks youngest British Columbian to die related to COVID-19

Child one of eight people to die from virus this weekend

Chakalaka Bar & Grill remains open in defiance of orders from Island Health to close. (Cole Schisler photo)
B.C. health authority seeks injunction against restaurant defying COVID-19 orders

Chakalaka Bar and Grill plans to continue serving customers without public health compliance

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Kimberley's Steve Tersmette has published Waterfall Hikes In Southern British Columbia, documenting 100 of the areas waterfalls.
Pharmacist Barbara Violo arranges all the empty vials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines that she has provided to customers at the Junction Chemist which is a independent pharmacy during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto, on Monday, April 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
B.C. to open up AstraZeneca vaccines for all people 40+, set up clinics in hot spots

A total of 13 neighbourhoods and communities will receive the AstraZeneca vaccine

Carver Ken Sheen had almost finished work on a large cowboy carving commissioned by the City of Williams Lake to replace the original overlooking the Stampede Grounds when fire broke out Friday, April 18 at his property between Williams Lake and Quesnel. (Pine River Carving Facebook photos)
Cow boss statue destined for Williams Lake Stampede Grounds goes up in flames

Carver Ken Sheen lost the statue, all his tools and his shop in the blaze

B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains. (Hansard TV)
B.C. moves to protect employee pay for COVID-19 vaccination

Most won’t need to take time off work, labour minister says

Most Read