NBA player LeBron James’ condemnation of Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey on Monday for supporting human rights in China has triggered a widespread backlash in Hong Kong, whose pro-freedom movement Morey endorsed.
James complained that Morey “wasn’t educated” when he posted a message on Twitter reading “fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong.” He later attempted to clarify on Twitter that he did not mean Morey was uneducated in China’s long history as one of the world’s most prolific human rights abusers. Rather, Morey was uneducated in how speaking up on behalf of an anti-authoritarian movement could be a personal inconvenience to James.
James and his team, the Los Angeles Lakers, were in China last week amid the communist backlash to Morey’s statement. James also has several personal business ties to the Chinese communist state.
As a dictatorship run through the Communist Party, the state controls the Chinese economy and no business is done without going through party leadership, either officially or through de facto means.
LeBron James is worth at least $450 million, according to a 2018 Forbes report, in part due to business with the Communist Party.
Supporters of the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement expressed disappointment with James online. According to the Hollywood Reporter, which cataloged reactions on the Hong Kong forum LIHKG, users speculated on what interest James would have in defending the Communist Party of China, which is responsible for the systematic rape, torture, murder, indoctrination, and enslavement of between 1 to 3 million people in concentration camps, most of its victims members of the Muslim Uyghur ethnic minority.
“Has he been brainwashed by the Chinese Communist Party’s fake news or has he been bought?” a user asked. Another lamented that an American “would not cherish the precious freedom of speech they [Americans] have.”
The Hollywood Reporter noted some of James’ lucrative ties to Beijing:
James’ business interests in China are enormous, thanks to his lifelong endorsement deal with Nike and his starring role in Warner Bros.’ Space Jam 2, which was likely greenlit with the huge China box office partly in mind, given the popularity of basketball in the country.
RTHK, a Hong Kong broadcaster, noted social media users began circulating a photo of James’ face superimposed on Mao Zedong, the Chinese communist butcher responsible for the deaths of at least 45 million people.
— Steven Cheung (@CaliforniaPanda) October 15, 2019
The anti-authoritarian artist Badiucao, who has recently dedicated much of his work to supporting the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, added his own submission to the LeBron James condemnation artwork: a piece depicting James in a jersey for the fictional “Beijing Lickers” team.
Dear lebron James @KingJame welcome join #BeijingLickers ！ I hope you like your new fit and tatoo.
Oh I also select ur new favorite number 11. You know 11 for XI in Roman numerals.
My toon on Leborn‘s kowtow statement about NBA and China. #StandwithHK #FreedomHK pic.twitter.com/w63S96EitJ
— 巴丢草 Badiucao (@badiucao) October 15, 2019
Many prominent members of the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement weighed in by sharing a statement by Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO), who attended a peaceful rally in Hong Kong this weekend, who called James’ remarks “garbage.”
“LeBron, are YOU educated on “the situation”? Why don’t you go to Hong Kong? Why don’t you meet the people there risking their lives for their most basic liberties,” Hawley suggested.
Those who weighed in questioned what benefit James would receive from defending the communist regime in Beijing.
“Is it appropriate to blame the victim now? Who are you trying to protect, LeBron?” Nathan Law, the founding chair of the pro-freedom group Demosisto, wrote on Twitter.
Hong Kong residents began pouring out onto the streets by the millions in June, when their Legislative Council proposed a bill that would allow the Communist Party to extradite anyone present in Hong Kong if accused of violating Beijing’s draconian laws. After two months of protests, Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced she would ask the legislature to withdraw the bill. Protesters are still making four demands of their government: freedom for political prisoners, direct election of lawmakers, an independent investigation into police brutality, and for officials to stop calling them “rioters,” as the overwhelming majority of protesters are peaceful.
This week, communist dictator Xi Jinping warned “separatists” – referring to the sovereign nation of Taiwan as well as dissidents in Hong Kong, Tibet, and Xinjiang – that China would leave “their bodies smashed and bones ground to powder” if they did not submit to his will.
China is literally grinding the bones of dead Uyghurs to powder in Xinjiang, where the Agence France-Press (AFP) found human remains lazily strewn about the rubble left behind at sites that used to hold ancient cemeteries the Communist Party had razed to erase the presence of the non-Han Chinese in the region.
James endorsed China’s brutality in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and elsewhere in remarks Tuesday, saying that Morey, by supporting a peaceful pro-democracy movement, was not being “educated.”
“I believe he wasn’t educated on the situation at hand, and he spoke,” James said of Morey. “So many people could have been harmed not only financially but physically, emotionally and spiritually. So just be careful with what we tweet, and we say, and we do.”
James added that freedom of speech brings “a lot of negative” with it to America.
He later attempted to clarify, in an attempt to quell widespread condemnation he dismissed as “confusion,” that he was not supporting rampant human rights abuses in China for their own sake, but rather doing so for his personal benefit.
“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,” he wrote.
He added that Morey “could have waited a week” to support the Hong Kong protests so that James would not face difficult questions personally while in China.
While no NBA affiliated person has openly condemned James’ remarks at press time, Boston Celtics player Enes Kanter appeared to criticize James without naming him. “Wow dude!” he wrote on Twitter, adding an emoji of a man slapping his forehead. He later detailed his own fight with Chinese ally Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the president of his native Turkey, who has imprisoned his father and antagonized him and his family for being followers of the America-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.
-Haven’t seen or talked to my family 5 years
-Jailed my dad
-My siblings can’t find jobs
-Revoked my passport
-International arrest warrant
-My family can’t leave the country
-Got Death Threats everyday
-Got attacked, harassed
-Tried to kidnap me in Indonesia
FREEDOM IS NOT FREE
— Enes Kanter (@EnesKanter) October 15, 2019
James’ pro-China outburst followed the abrupt silence of Chinese state media that descended on Friday, when the NBA began to calculate that the backlash from pro-freedom Americans to their bottom line was greater than that of the orchestrated outrage of the Chinese communists. At press time, the four major English-language Chinese state outlets – Xinhua, the Global Times, China Daily, and the People’s Daily – have not remarked on James’ comments.