LeBron James said Monday that he believes Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey “wasn’t educated” and failed to consider the consequences when tweeting support for anti-government protesters in Hong Kong.
James is one of the few NBA representatives to speak openly about the China-NBA controversy, Reuters reported. Doing so prompted some social media users to accuse James of condoning censorship.
Morey’s Oct. 4 tweet prompted Chinese sponsors and partners to cut ties with the Rockets and the National Basketball Association. James said his actions could have jeopardized relations between China and the owners, teams and players, ESPN reported.
China’s state broadcaster canceled plans to air a pair of preseason games held last week in China, KTLA reported.
Hong Kong has had months of protests and growing violence between demonstrators and police following a government proposal to allow extradition to mainland China. The proposal was dropped but pro-Democracy protests continued.
China has accused the U.S. of orchestrating the protests with foreigners working for the CIA. Foreign employers in Hong Kong are under increasing pressure to condemn the protest movement or show they’re loyal to China, the Independent reported. Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong, 22, has been accused of having close ties to the U.S. When he was 17, Chinese government-controlled newspaper Wen Wei Po said the U.S. government had been grooming the student leader to cultivate him as a “political superstar.”
Morey’s tweet in support of the pro-democracy protesters was deleted, but NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said the league is not apologizing for the tweet. Silver said in a statement he supports Morey’s right of freedom of speech, and the NBA will not regulate what players, employees and team owners say.
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James’ response created its own firestorm, intensifying the discussion of freedom of speech.
“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,” 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.”
James added that he believes “social media is not always the proper way to go about things as well.”
After speaking to reporters, James sent out more tweets to “clear up the confusion.”
“Let me clear up the confusion,” he tweeted. “I do not believe there was any consideration for the consequences and ramifications of the tweet. I’m not discussing the substance. Others can talk about that.”
James is Nike’s highest-paid and most globally recognized pitchman, and Nike does big business in China. In the most recent quarter, Nike’s China revenue increased by 22 percent to almost $1.7 billion, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Some Twitter users congratulated James for “good damage control” or simply chose to be denial: “Obviously, he doesn’t believe this to be true, if it affects his paycheck.”
Others were disappointed by James’ comments or posted emoji money bags. “You have arguably one of the largest platforms in the world and could potentially make significant change with you words. Instead you are choosing to carry China’s water and censor Americans for a buck,” one responded.
James tweeted Monday about bad timing and his difficult week. “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.”
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