Amid the firestorm ignited by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s tweet supporting pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James reportedly pressed NBA Commissioner Adam Silver during a meeting in China last week about whether or not the league planned to discipline Morey.
The back-and-forth came during a closed-door meeting Silver held with Brooklyn Nets and Lakers players who were in Shanghai for an exhibition game at the same time China was publicly retaliating against the league for the tweet, which was posted to Morey's personal account.
Chinese officials took down huge posters, canceled public relations events and press conferences, and even banned the broadcast inside China of the two scheduled games. Chinese sportswear companies also suspended or cut ties with the Rockets and several apparel stores in the Communist country reportedly removed Rockets gear from their shelves.
In the midst of China's escalating reprisals, James, the NBA's biggest and most marketable star worldwide and an entrepreneur with burgeoning media ventures outside the basketball realm, asked what the repercussions would be for Morey’s tweet given the economic consequences, according to ESPN.
James reportedly said if the situation had involved a player tweeting something that produced a similar leaguewide economic fallout, the NBA would undoubtedly dispense some form of discipline. So, James wanted to know, is a general manager held to the same standard?
But Silver pushed back against James, saying he'd never disciplined any of the myriad players or coaches who've routinely criticized President Trump, his administration or his policies. He said Morey deserved similar latitude, and reportedly told James the same freedoms enjoyed by anti-Trump players applied to Morey challenging China's government.
James added it was time for players to follow Silver and stop addressing the issue one by one given the complex geopolitical considerations involved in the Hong Kong demonstrations.
James on Monday, however, didn't follow his own advice. Making his first public comments, he was widely panned after calling Morey “uninformed” on the issues plaguing Hong Kong and China.
“I’m not here to judge how the league handled the situation,” he told reporters. “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 did for our league but for all of us in America, for people in China as well. Sometimes you have to think through the things that you say that may cause harm not only for yourself but for the majority of people. I think that’s just a prime example of that.”
Later, James attempted a measure of damage control. He tweeted he wasn't criticizing Morey on substance, but rather on the timing of the message, coming on the eve of the NBA's China trip. But instead of stemming the tide, James' tweet only fueled the fire.
“My team and this league just went through a difficult week," James wrote. "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.”
Then on Tuesday night James said he wasn’t going to address the issue anymore.
Less than two years since he defiantly proclaimed "I will not shut up and dribble," proclaiming he owed it to his "peers," "fans" and "the youth" to speak out on important issues, James backed away, saying athletes are "not politicians."
“I'd be cheating my teammates by continuing to harp on something that won't benefit us trying to win a championship because that's what we're here for,” James said. “We're not politicians. I think it's a huge political thing but we are leaders and we can step up at times. But...you don't feel like you should speak upon things you shouldn't have to.”
He said he was more concerned with social justice issues in the U.S. and his children's education than he was in getting bogged down in delicate geopolitical matters occurring thousands of miles away.
“There's things that happen in my own community, trying to help my kids graduate high school and go off to college, what's been my main concern over the last couple years and my school,” he said. “Trying to make sure the inner city kids that grew up in my hometown can have a brighter future and look at me as inspiration to get out of the hellhole of the inner city. And we don't talk about those stories enough.”