In last week’s Acton Commentary I expressed my hope that LeBron James wouldn’t just shut up and dribble in the wake of NBA appeasement and a coordinated sports media blackout regarding the protest movement in Hong Kong. As an NBA all-time great, accomplished businessman, and outspoken activist he was uniquely positioned to stand up for Hong Kong even if it meant standing up to the NBA, team owners, the communist regime in China, and the NBA’s Chinese sponsors. I had not anticipated the possibility that what he would say would be far worse than his silence:
“I don’t want to get into a [verbal] feud with Daryl Morey, but I believe he wasn’t educated on the situation at hand, and he spoke,” James said before the Los Angeles Lakers played the Golden State Warriors in a preseason game at Staples Center. “And so many people could have been harmed not only financially, physically, emotionally, spiritually. So just be careful what we tweet and say and we do, even though, yes, we do have freedom of speech, but there can be a lot of negative that comes with that, too.”
What Daryl Morey had tweeted was a simple expression of solidarity with the Hong Kong protest movement, “Fight For Freedom. Stand With Hong Kong.” Morey has since deleted the tweet replacing it with a painful-to-read struggle session. While Golden State Warriors Point Guard Steph Curry feigned ignorance of China’s well known human rights abuses and Warriors coach Steve Kerr drew a dubious moral equivalency between gun violence in America and human rights abuses in China, LeBron James went one step further claiming that Morey himself “wasn’t educated” about the situation in China echoing the sentiments of Brooklyn Nets owner Joe Tsai. Which is to say, he repeated communist China’s party line.
While NBA commissioner Adam Silver went to great pains to say this wasn’t about money, LeBron James leads his list of potential harms from an expression of solidarity with the Hong Kong protest movement with the financial, followed by the physical, emotional, and spiritual. This concern for people harmed is limited to NBA players to the exclusion of the Hong Kong protesters who daily face threats to their very lives. Whatever emotional harm to NBA players has been the result of a since deleted tweet pales in comparison to the despair experienced by the people of Hong Kong, some of which have even been driven to take their own lives. As to spiritual harm, the comparison is so incredulous as to beggar belief.
When James states that with freedom of speech, “…there can be a lot of negative that comes with that, too,” he is right but carefully leaves unsaid that any threats to the financial, physical, emotional, or spiritual well-being of NBA players are posed by the communist regime in China itself. If even the mildest form of expression of solidarity can provoke the People’s Republic of China to such draconian action as to imperil the well-being of NBA players, why play in China at all?
James quickly took to Twitter to try and manage the public relations disaster which ensued after his comments, stating,
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.
An hour later Boston Celtics Center Enes Kanter, who at great personal risk has been an outspoken critic of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, tweeted:
-Haven’t seen or talked to my family 5 years
-Jailed my dad
-My siblings can’t find jobs
-Revoked my passport
-International arrest warrant
-My family can’t leave the country
-Got Death Threats everyday
-Got attacked, harassed
-Tried to kidnap me in Indonesia
FREEDOM IS NOT FREE
It was not a tweet or statement which made LeBron’s week difficult, but a totalitarian regime which he is too cowardly to confront. There are costs to such confrontation and those costs are not merely financial. Hopefully one day LeBron James can become educated about the situation at hand. Perhaps he can learn from the example of Enes Kanter that freedom is not free.