Lebron, NBA: Profits or Freedom?

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On Friday, Oct. 4, Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey sparked outrage throughout the NBA for simply tweeting an image that said, “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.”

These words expressing support for the people protesting the authoritarian Chinese government caused NBA stars such as James Harden to apologize to Chinese NBA fans for Morey’s “inflammatory” tweet. That the NBA would shun someone for supporting nonviolent protesters is simply detestable. 

Pressure for Morey to retract the tweet and apologize reveals that the NBA is more concerned with making money than with staying consistent about social justice issues.

At a Washington Wizards preseason game, for example, a fan held a sign that said, “Free Hong Kong.” As a result of his activism, the fan had his sign confiscated.

The NBA is also not allowing journalists to ask players and coaches about Hong Kong during press conferences. The NBA’s restriction of these questions is surprising given that the NBA has no problem with coaches and players criticizing the president.

Instead, the NBA is seeing dollar signs. As NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said, “The financial consequences have been and may continue to be fairly dramatic.” Silver outright admitted that the Morey controversy is about money. Even though he later said that the league is not about profit, it is ridiculous to believe his assertion because a league without profits would cease to exist. Silver needs China for the NBA’s financial success, and his apologetic tone demonstrates that the NBA cares more about those profits than the American value of freedom.

The behavior of the players, coaches and executives demonstrates that supporting human rights is a conditional idea in the NBA.

Lakers star LeBron James, for example, called Morey “misinformed” about Hong Kong on Monday, Oct. 14, despite his having tweeted in the past that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” 

James must be consistent about injustice. If he is concerned with injustice, why is he silent about China’s Muslim reeducation camps or their threats to kill Hong Kongese protestors? If he is concerned with injustice, why is he tolerating Chinese authoritarianism? 

James continued to show his selfishness and greed by tweeting about how he and his team had “a difficult week” while playing preseason games in China. James also tried to belittle Morey by suggesting that other people need to think about “what a tweet or statement can do to others.” James’s most egregious comment came when he said, “We all talk about this freedom of speech, yes, we all do 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.”

Excuse me, LeBron James, but you are the one who is thinking about yourself. LeBron James is upset with Daryl Morey because Morey’s tweet may cause James to lose some endorsement contracts, never mind the fact that James is worth almost $500 million.

If LeBron James is concerned with injustice, then he should be more like Enes Kanter. Kanter, of the Boston Celtics, quickly rebuked James for his comments by tweeting about his daily reality as a result of his criticism of the Turkish government. Kanter has criticized President Erdogan of Turkey, an authoritarian regime. As a result, Kanter is banned from returning home to Turkey. His father is jailed as a dissident, and he receives death threats daily for having the courage to speak out against his home country.

The NBA-Hong Kong situation reveals the issues with the fusion of politics and sports. When people switch on a sporting event, they are looking for a quality sporting event, an outlet from the rest of life’s pressures and responsibilities. By infusing politics into sports, the games lose their significance to fans everywhere.

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