Michael Jordan had his infamous “republicans buy sneakers too” moment — and now LeBron James has been accused of letting his wallet do the talking on the NBA’s China issue.
The biggest star in American basketball has finally weighed in on a tweet from Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey where he supported Hong Kong’s political struggle against China.
The tweet, which included an image bearing the words “fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong” created a tidal wave of anger in China which some estimated could cost the NBA billions.
In response to Mr Morey’s tweet, every single Chinese company that usually partners with the NBA announced they were suspending their ties to the league.
It created a tense situation for several NBA teams that were playing exhibition games in the Asian country this week but just when the situation appeared to be dying down, James poured a full can of petrol on the fire.
Asked if Morey should have been reprimanded for his tweet, James was more candid than many would have expected — only in a surprise direction.
“I think when we all sit back and learn from the situation that happened, understand that what you could tweet or could say … 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, and you’re only thinking about yourself,” the LA Lakers star said.
“I don’t want to get into a feud with Daryl Morey, but I believe he wasn’t educated on the situation at hand, and he spoke. And 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.”
The 34-year-old’s criticism of Morey was seen as support of China.
“This is absolutely shameful,” Fox Sports’ Clay Travis said. “LeBron had a week to come up with what to say and he decided to rip an NBA executive who defended democracy. Turns out if you pay him enough LeBron won’t just shut up and dribble, he’ll defend communist dictatorships.”
“Daryl Morey’s educational achievements: Has a B.S. in Computer Science from Northwestern University and an M.B.A. from the MIT,” added Ryan Saavedra. “LeBron James’ educational achievements: High school diploma.”
Morey’s tweet was in reference to pro-democracy demonstrations in the semi autonomous Chinese territory that has been mired in escalating violence between protesters and law enforcement.
The tweet was deleted soon after it was posted, and Rockets owner and billionaire casino and restaurant owner Tilman Fertitta quickly rebuked his GM with a tweet saying that Morey does not speak for the team. He added: “Our presence in Tokyo is all about the promotion of the NBA internationally and we are NOT a political organization.”
Despite the swift response from Fertitta, the damage was already done. Former Rockets star Yao Ming took offence to Morey’s support for the anti-government protesters and as president of the Chinese Basketball Association, suspended its ties to the Rockets over the tweet.
Events in China promoting a series between the Lakers and Nets were canceled, NBA media partner Tencent said it was evaluating its plans to cover the league, and China state broadcaster CCTV did not air either preseason game.