LeBron James and the Hong Kong debate

Los Angeles Laker icon LeBron James received a major amount of criticism from bourgeois pundits for his Oct. 14 statements on a controversial Oct. 4 tweet from white general manager of the National Basketball Association’s Houston Rockets, Daryl Morey. As the Rockets, the Lakers and the Brooklyn Nets were in China to play preseason games there, Morey tweeted, “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong.”

This tweet, which was quickly deleted, created an immediate condemnation from millions of Chinese sports fans on social media, followed by the Chinese government. The condemnations evolved into a global debate regarding the NBA’s financial ties to China and the very nature of the Hong Kong controversy.  

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver apologized to the Chinese government for the tweet, but also defended Morey’s “right to free speech.”  

NBA social programs between the players and the fans were cancelled, as well as some media events. NBA players were told by the association not to publicly comment on the controversy, especially if they were still visiting China. (Go to tinyurl.com/y4emvbc7 to read “NBA and China: The ‘right to free speech’ vs. the right to sovereignty.”) 

LeBron stated, “I don’t want to get in a word or sentence feud with Daryl Morey, but I believe he wasn’t educated on the situation at hand, and he spoke. So many people could have been harmed, not only financially but physically, emotionally, spiritually. So just be careful what we tweet and what we say and what we do. Even though, yes, we do have freedom of speech, there can be a lot of negative that comes with it.”

LeBron continued, “When I speak about something, I speak about something I’m very knowledgeable about, something that hits home for me, something that I am very passionate about. I felt like with this particular situation, it was something that not only was I not informed enough about, I just felt like it was something that not only myself and my teammates or our organization had enough information to even talk about it at that point in time, and we still feel the same way.” (USA Today, Oct. 14)

LeBron even stated that there are times when social issues relevant to Black NBA players are not raised by the NBA hierarchy. Not one NBA official has been criticized for not publicly supporting Black Lives Matter; a case in point is Daryl Morey.  

LeBron clarified that Morey being “miseducated” was not a reference to what he said in his tweet, but the ill timing of it and how it could have negatively impacted the players who were in China at the time.   

Hong Kong rooted in colonialism

The protests in Hong Kong were sparked in June by a proposed bill to allow extradition to mainland China. The bill was withdrawn in September but did not stop the protests, which are indications of long-standing, deep anti-communist hatred of Chinese sovereignty, rooted in colonialism. This was the real motivation for Morey’s tweet and Silver’s defense of it. 

Hong Kong was a British colony from 1841 to 1941. It was under Japanese occupation from 1941 until 1945. After World War II, Japan surrendered Hong Kong back to Britain as a colonial possession until July 1, 1997, when it was legally declared a sovereign territory of mainland China.  

The pronouncement of defending “democracy” is an attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of the world — to hide that the Hong Kong protests are pro-imperialist and seek to turn back the reactionary hands of time to when British Hong Kong existed. One only has to witness the domination of U.S. and British Union Jack flags to understand the protests’ long-term political objectives.  

An important question is: Why aren’t the Hong Kong protests drawing attention to the growing numbers of homeless and impoverished residents there? This is in contrast to Hong Kong’s standing as a global capitalist financial center. In 2017, it was reported that one out of every seven residents were millionaires, a hugely disproportionate number considering the general population of just over 7.3 million. (businessinsider.com) In stark contrast, according to the South China Morning Post, one in five were impoverished in Hong Kong. (Nov. 17, 2017)  

Self-determination for China and Black athletes

Once LeBron made his public statement, it provoked the burning of his popular jersey by Hong Kong protesters. 

LeBron was accused of being inconsistent and even hypocritical when it came to not outwardly supporting the demands of the Hong Kong protests and for speaking out against racist injustice inside the U.S., especially the police killings of unarmed Black people.  

This criticism came mostly from predominantly white sportscasters, who are not inhibited in exhibiting their anti-communist views. These same commentators accused James of caring more about his multimillion-dollar contracts with Chinese businesses than what was going on in Hong Kong.  

That is certainly hypocritical considering the NBA is a multibillion-dollar, capitalist, global corporation with 10 percent of its revenue coming from China.   

These were some of the same sportscasters who were critical of former pro-football quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, when he took a knee during the playing of the national anthem to protest racist police brutality three years ago. He has not been allowed to play pro football since 2016.

Black sports commentators, for the most part, gave James the benefit of the doubt due to his being the most outspoken among the mainly Black NBA players on these social issues. Some of the Black commentators questioned why James should  be expected to comment on other social issues outside of the U.S., especially those of a geopolitical nature. 

China has the right to self-determination without the interference of U.S. and Western imperialism into its internal affairs. That is what the Chinese Revolution of 1949 was all about. Black NBA players like LeBron James should also have the right to self-determination in terms of what they say or don’t say about social issues at home and abroad, especially with issues they don’t feel comfortable talking about.

NBA comments deepen Chinese anger

Silver stated on Oct. 17 that the Chinese government asked the NBA to fire Morey. This was refuted by Chinese state media, CCTV, which broadcast NBA games to millions of Chinese on a regular basis before the Morey tweet. The South China Morning Post also reported that Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said the Beijing government never requested that Silver fire Morey. 

As the Post explained, “Silver has spared no effort to portray himself as a fighter for free speech and used freedom of speech as an excuse to cover for Morey, who voiced his support for the violent actors in Hong Kong. This has crossed the bottom line of the Chinese people.” (Oct. 19) 

When Silver addressed this, he stated that not only would he not fire Morey, but he would not discipline him.  

At a Brooklyn Nets home preseason game Oct. 18, film producer Andrew Duncan purchased 3,000 tickets, costing tens of thousands of dollars, for protesters who wore “Stand with Hong Kong” T-shirts in the arena. This was an obvious slap in the face to Joseph Tsai, the Chinese principal owner of the Nets, who was critical of the Hong Kong protests from a historical and cultural perspective.  

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