The NBA's reputation as the world's woke sports organisation has taken a beating over the past 10 days in the wake of a tweet from Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey that said “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong". The tweet came on the eve of a number of high-profile NBA presesason games in China, causing uproar in China and maximum awkwardness to the league and its players. PR and sponsorship events were cancelled. Travelling to China was supposed to be about making a lot of easy money, but all of a sudden, the NBA and its players were thrust into the middle of geopolitical feud between China and Hong Kong.
The moral waffling peaked yesterday when LeBron James, the face of the league and one of the most famous people in the world, criticised Morey's perspective on the issue and seemed to back China.
Lakers’ LeBron James on NBA’s China controversy: “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.” pic.twitter.com/KKrMNU0dKR
— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) October 15, 2019
"I don't want to get into a word or sentence feud with Daryl Morey," he said, "but I believe he wasn't educated on the situation at hand and he spoke. We do all 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."
Today, ESPN's Dave McMenamin reports that LeBron pressured NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to sanction MOet over the tweet, stating that if an NBA player had tweeted something that offended an entity as big as China, they'd inevitably be fined.
This is the same LeBron who tweeted the following in 2018.
-Injustice Anywhere Is A Threat To Justice Everywhere- Our Lives Begin To End The Day We Become Silent About Things That Matter- #ThankYouMLK50
— LeBron James (@KingJames) January 15, 2018
LeBron's stance has not gone down well in Hong Kong. In the 24 hours after LeBron's statement, Hong Kong protesters have burned LeBron jerseys, pasted his photo to backboards and held up photos of LeBron in extreme anguish.
Back home, LeBron has become a meme.
LeBron is a Chinese communist icon. pic.twitter.com/B4g45UXV6v
— Ian Miles Cheong (@stillgray) October 16, 2019
“My most surprising friend is China.” - Lebron James
— Essential Cernovich (@Cernovich) October 16, 2019
It will be fascinating to see what happens next in this story. Whatever happens, the NBA's relationship with China has been profoundly transformed by a single deleted tweet.