China: Criticizing Pro-Communist LeBron James Has ‘Nasty Racial Connotations’

LeBron James
Getty Images/Zhong Zhi

The government-run China Daily claimed in a weekend column the backlash against basketball player LeBron James for standing with the Communist Party has “nasty racial connotations.”

The newspaper added James had “demonstrated tact and thoughtfulness” in criticizing Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey.

Morey triggered a nearly month-long controversy early this month by posting an image on Twitter reading “Fight for freedom, stand for Hong Kong.” The NBA forced Morey to apologize and delete the tweet, issuing its own enthusiastic apology to the Chinese Communist Party for Morey’s choice to support anti-communist protests in the capitalist city.

Morey published the tweet while James and his team, the Los Angeles Lakers, were touring China for a series of exhibition games meant to promote the league among Chinese fans. Upon his return, James chastised Morey for jeopardizing James’ financial interests, saying he “could have waited a week to send” the tweet and accusing him of not being “educated” on the protests. A week later, the situation on the ground in Hong Kong would not have changed, but James would not have been personally inconvenienced with questions regarding his business with the Communist Party.

James secured a lifetime sponsorship deal with Nike believed to be worth $1 billion; Nike has deep business ties to the Chinese Communist Party. He is also producing a sequel to the 1990s classic Space Jam that will have to pass Chinese Communist Party censors’ standards to air in Chinese theaters.

China Daily applauded James protecting his personal interests and, in the process, those of the Communist Party, praising him for not “playing their game” – referring to Western critics.

“Opinion elites were quick to condemn James for, irony of ironies, insufficient condemnation,” China Daily claimed. “They wanted James to come out strong against China, to mirror their perspective on a country they’ve designated as an enemy.”

The newspaper compared criticism of James calling Morey uneducated for supporting a peaceful pro-democracy movement to the backlash against communist former football player Colin Kaepernick, also a Nike spokesman.

“A revolting hypocrisy is at work here. The same people who told James and former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick to ‘shut up and play’ when they took a stand against the killing of Black men by U.S. police are now demanding athletes speak out — but only if their opinions are the correct ones, of course,” the propaganda outlet alleged. China Daily went on to repeat what has now become the Chinese Communist Party’s main talking point on Beijing’s campaign to silence all celebrities on the atrocities committing within China’s borders: that America does not have real freedom of speech.
“No matter what anyone says, this isn’t about freedom of speech. That’s just a fig leaf, a cover for policing discourse and narrowing the window of acceptable opinion so the only stances that fit are the ones in line with the US government,” the newspaper claimed. “‘Free speech’ has never really been about the untrammeled right to say or do whatever one wants — the US created broad definitions of dissent to prosecute its critics throughout its history.”

The evidence China Daily presented for America prosecuting dissenters was the 1798 Alien and Sedition Acts.

Rather than China’s silencing of Morey warning famous Americans never to express public opinions on China being a threat to free speech, China Daily claimed that the organic public criticism of James is the real threat.

Unlike dissenters in China – often disappeared into prisons without due process and cut open alive so the government can sell their organs on the black market – James has suffered no legal repercussions from expressing disagreement with Morey. His employer, the NBA, has also not censured him for his comments; the NBA has also vowed not to punish Morey, which has triggered outrage from the Chinese Communist Party.

“No one in the major US media, not even James’ few defenders, has entertained the notion he was speaking honestly. Besides the nasty racial connotations — think for a moment what a largely white media class devaluing a Black man’s subjectivity implies — it sets a precedent,” China Daily claimed. “If one of the most talented and popular athletes in the world has his statements dismissed when they don’t conform to Western consensus, what does that mean for the rest of us?”

The piece ends by encouraging James not to “buckle to pressure” from American fans, and to instead buckle from pressure from the Chinese Communist Party.

China Daily‘s support for James follows threats this weekend coming from state broadcaster CCTV, which warned NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to fire Morey for expressing himself publicly or “receive retribution sooner or later.” CCTV expressed particular disdain for Silver because the commissioner had revealed last week that Chinese government officials pressured him to hurt Morey’s career to teach the rest of his employees not to speak ill of the repressive Chinese regime, but Silver refused.
“We were being asked to fire him by the Chinese government, by the parties we dealt with, government and business,” Silver said on Thursday. “We said there’s no chance that’s happening. There’s no chance we’ll even discipline him.”

Silver had “crossed the bottom line by showing a lack of respect to Chinese,” according to CCTV, and was “inventing lies to dirty China.”

“Once a person’s morality goes wrong, he will receive retribution sooner or later,” the broadcaster warned.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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