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

Victoria-based driving instructors are concerned for their own and the community’s safety with the continued number of residents from COVID hotspots in the Lower Mainland coming to the city to take their driving road tests. (Black Press Media file photo)
Students from COVID hotspots travel to Victoria for driving tests

Union leader calls on government to institute stronger travel ban

(Courtesy Saanich Police Dept.)
Police hope boot search will help find missing Saanich man

Sean Hart is known to walk for miles, with or without his boots

A Colwood couple has set up over 140 Christmas inflatable decorations around their property at 555 Girdou Rd. The home is lit with Christmas music playing from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. (Aaron Guillen/News Staff)
PHOTOS: Colwood house decorated to the nines with Christmas inflatables

Display on Girou Road open to spectators from 3 to 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday

Shopping in the evening in downtown Victoria can be a good time to go, with relatively few people in store and plenty of room to physically distance, as this photo from Government Street shows. (Don Descoteau/News Staff) 
Shopping in the evening in downtown Victoria can be a good time to go, with relatively few people in store and plenty of room to physically distance, as this photo from Government Street shows. But thanks to a new program from the Downtown Victoria Business Association, many downtown businesses will soon be able to provide free delivery for customers across the region. (Don Descoteau/News Staff)
Downtown Victoria businesses offered free delivery for regional customers

DVBA launches ‘Downtown Delivers’ program Dec. 7

Saanich police reported a crash on the Pat Bay Highway near Haliburton Road impacting southbound traffic Friday afternoon. (Google Maps)
UPDATED: Pat Bay Highway clear following two-vehicle crash

Two drivers were transported to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries

Pickleball game in Vancouver on Sunday, November 8, 2020. B.C.’s public health restrictions for COVID-19 have been extended to adult team sports, indoors and outside. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
711 more COVID-19 cases detected in B.C. Friday

‘Virus is not letting up and neither can we’

Demonstrators, organized by the Public Fishery Alliance, outside the downtown Vancouver offices of Fisheries and Oceans Canada July 6 demand the marking of all hatchery chinook to allow for a sustainable public fishery while wild stocks recover. (Public Fishery Alliance Facebook photo)
Angry B.C. anglers see petition tabled in House of Commons

Salmon fishers demand better access to the healthy stocks in the public fishery

(Hotel Zed/Flytographer)
B.C. hotel grants couple 18 years of free stays after making baby on Valentines Day

Hotel Zed has announced a Kelowna couple has received free Valentines Day stays for next 18 years

Farmers raise slogans during a protest on a highway at the Delhi-Haryana state border, India, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rejected the diplomatic scolding Canada’s envoy to India received on Friday for his recent comments in support of protesting Indian farmers. Tens of thousands of farmers have descended upon the borders of New Delhi to protest new farming laws that they say will open them to corporate exploitation. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Manish Swarup
Trudeau brushes off India’s criticism for standing with farmers in anti-Modi protests

The High Commission of India in Ottawa had no comment when contacted Friday

Nurse Kath Olmstead prepares a shot as the world’s biggest study of a possible COVID-19 vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., gets underway Monday, July 27, 2020, in Binghamton, N.Y. U.S. biotech firm Moderna says its vaccine is showing signs of producing lasting immunity to COVID-19, and that it will have as many as many as 125 million doses available by the end of March. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Hans Pennink
Canada orders more COVID vaccines, refines advice on first doses as cases reach 400K

Canada recorded its 300,000th case of COVID-19 on Nov. 16

Apartments are seen lit up in downtown Vancouver as people are encouraged to stay home during the global COVID-19 pandemic on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. British Columbia’s deputy provincial health officer says provincewide data show the most important area B.C. must tackle in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic is health inequity. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
Age, income among top factors affecting well-being during pandemic, B.C. survey shows

Among respondents earning $20,000 a year or less, more than 41 per cent reported concern about food insecurity

The opening day on Mount Washington this year was Dec. 4. Screenshot
Mount Washington opens on time, COVID-19 protocols in place

“We’re super excited - it’s been six months in the planning.”

British Columbia Health Minister Adrian Dix wears a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19, during an announcement about a new regional cancer centre, in Surrey, B.C., on Thursday, August 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
PHSA bought faulty respirators; spent money on catering, renovations: Dix

Such spending included ‘unnecessary, unbudgeted renovations’ to the authority’s headquarters in Vancouver

B.C. NDP leader John Horgan releases his election platform, Vancouver, Oct. 6, 2020, featuring COVID-19 relief payments promised for most households. (B.C. NDP photo)
Next $1.5 billion in B.C. COVID-19 cash ‘prudent,’ Horgan says

New round of payments for household incomes up to $175,000

Most Read