LeBron James has long spoken out on social justice issues, such as in his advocacy for the Black Lives Matter movement, his criticism of President Trump as a “bum” and his push to be “more than an athlete.”
But on Monday night, the vocal NBA star sided with silence as he criticized Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey as “misinformed” over Morey’s tweet supporting Hong Kong protesters.
“I just think that when you’re misinformed or you’re not educated about something — and I’m just talking about the tweet itself — you never know the ramifications that can happen. We all see what that did — not only for our league but for all of us in America, for people in China as well,” he told reporters on Monday.
James’ comments threatened to undermine his reputation as perhaps the foremost social justice advocate in popular culture.
Amid that criticism from sports columnists and politicians, James tried to clarify his position on Twitter. He said he was “not discussing the substance” of the tweet and added that Morey “could have waited a week” to tweet what he did.
James’ criticism came while the NBA is embroiled in a standoff with China after Morey tweeted his support for the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong. Morey quickly apologized and deleted his original tweet, but the league’s Chinese partners suspended ties, state broadcaster CCTV halted all broadcasts of preseason matches, and the Chinese government said the NBA needed to show “mutual respect.”
The rift, and the NBA’s rapid attempts to salvage its massive Chinese market, have sparked broader questions about the influence of China on free speech in corporate America.
Speaking to reporters before a game in Los Angeles Monday, James called it “a very delicate situation, a very sensitive situation.”
When asked whether Morey should be reprimanded for his tweet, James responded, “I think when we all sit back and learn from the situation that happened, understand that what you could tweet or could say, and we all talk about this freedom of speech – yes, 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.”
“I don’t want to get into a word or sentence feud with Daryl Morey, but I believe he wasn’t educated on the situation at hand and he spoke. So many people could have been harmed, not just financially but physically, emotionally, spiritually. So just be careful what we tweet and what we say and what 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, who plays for the Los Angeles Lakers, added that he and his teammates had stayed silent about the situation because they were “not informed enough” about it, and that “I’m not here to judge how the League handles the situation.”