The topic of China (read a summary here from the US) does not stop employing the North American professional basketball league NBA. After a now-deleted tweet from Houston Rocket's manager Daryl Morey, in which he expressed his solidarity with the protesters in Hong Kong, LeBron James has now commented on the matter. The 34-year-old superstar accuses Morey of not having thought of the consequences of his tweet.
Following Morey's tweets, Chinese NBA fans and celebrities have been outraged, with major Chinese sponsors ending their collaboration with the Rockets, who have been particularly popular in China because of their former player Yao Ming.
Before a preparatory game against the Golden State Warriors on Monday, James said that Morey had not realized how many people could have been hurt by the tweet, "not just financially, but physically, emotionally, spiritually." The following day, James wrote to Twitter that Morey "could have waited a week."
James completed two friendly matches in China against the Brooklyn Nets, owned by Chinese billionaire Joe Tsai, in the days following the tweet with his Los Angeles Lakers team. All press conferences, anthems and interviews around the games were canceled. In addition, numerous charity and marketing events should have taken place. For James himself appearances were planned for two of his sponsors.
The resulting financial damage seems to annoy James. "Yes, we all have freedom of expression," he said, "But sometimes it can have a negative impact if you do not think about the others, but just yourself."
In the US and Hong Kong, James reaps criticism for his comments: "LeBron James is more important to sneaker sales than American values," wrote a Twitter user. Photomontages depicting James as a member of the Chinese People's Army went viral. In Hong Kong, protesters took to the streets and burned James jerseys.
James has been the face of the NBA for years, with a progressive image in the US. The 15-time Allstar is considered enlightened and is politically active, he has repeatedly attacked in tweets US President Donald Trump. After Laura Ingraham, a host on US Fox television, urged James in February 2018 to "shut up and dribble", he and his sponsor Nike launched a campaign entitled "More Than An Athlete" – more as just an athlete.
When asked by "The Athletic" if he was thinking about doing business in China after the NBA's China affair, James remembered his role as a basketball pro. "Doing business in China, for me, means playing basketball and inspiring people to play basketball," he said. "The business is just a byproduct of my game."
The NBA was also criticized in the US for its cautious response to criticism from China. The local basketball fans accuse the league of giving up democratic values for profit. Now even the biggest star has gone into the crossfire.