LOS ANGELES — In his first public media availability since returning from China, Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James criticized Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey for his tweet more than a week ago in support of pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong.
James — who reportedly confronted NBA commissioner Adam Silver about the issue — said before Monday’s preseason game against the Warriors that Morey was “was either misinformed or not really educated on the situation” when he sent out a tweet in support of the protests.
“When you’re misinformed or you’re not educated about something — and I’m just talking about the tweet itself — you never know the ramifications that can happen,” James told reporters before the Lakers’ preseason game against the Warriors at Staples Center. “We all saw what that did — not only did for our league, but all of us in America, for people in China as well. Sometimes you have to think through things that you say that may cause harm — not only for yourself, but for the majority of people. I think that’s just a primary example of that.”
In the aftermath of the since-deleted tweet, the Communist government of the nation of 1.4 billion people has worked to sever ties with the NBA. James and the Lakers were in China for preseason games, and after Morey’s tweet, had two NBA Cares events canceled, their live broadcasts pulled and their media availabilities canceled.
“I think when we talk about the political side, I think it’s a very delicate situation,” James said on Monday. “Very sensitive situation. For me personally, if any of you guys know me or always cover me, you guys know when I speak about something, I speak about something I’m very knowledgeable about. Something that hits home for me. Something I’m very passionate about.
“I feel like with this particular situation, not only was I not informed enough about it. I just felt like it was something not only myself or 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.”
Though Silver eventually released another statement re-affirming the league’s support of free speech, his initial response to the tweet — seemingly kowtowing to the Chinese government’s sensitivity to and censorship of criticism — was the subject of much debate. The NBA is widely held as the most progressive, pro-active and outspoken league in American sports in terms of social issues. China’s history of human rights abuses are at the forefront of international discussion, especially where it concerns treatment of political prisoners.
Hong Kong citizens — who have long enjoyed a form of autonomy, with separate government and economy — began to protest in light of proposals that would allow extradition of criminals to mainland China. Morey sent his tweet on Oct. 4. while the Lakers and Brooklyn Nets were on a 13-hour flight to China for a swing through Shanghai and Shenzen.
The tweet read: “Fight for Freedom. Stand for Hong Kong.” Morey later tweeted an apology, saying, “I did not intend my tweet to cause any offense to Rockets fans and friends of mine in China. I was merely voicing one thought, based on one interpretation, of one complicated event. I have had a lot of opportunity since that tweet to hear and consider other perspectives.”
Asked whether he thinks the league should reprimand Morey, James said it should remain a league matter, decided behind closed doors.
“I think we should all sit back and learn from the situation that happened, understand what you could tweet or could say, and we all talk about this — freedom of speech,” James said. “Yes, we do have freedom of speech, but at times, there are ramifications for the negative that can happen when you’re not thinking about others, when you only think about yourself.
“I don’t want to get into 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, it can be a lot of negative that comes with it.”
James was then asked to clarify his statement.
“I believe (Morey) was either misinformed or not really educated on the situation, and if he was, then so be it,” James said. “But I have no idea. That’s just my belief. When you say things or do things, you’re doing it and you know the people that can be affected by it, and the families and the individuals and everyone that can be affected by it. Sometimes things can be challenging as well. Also sometimes, social media is not always the proper way to go about things as well. But that’s just my belief.”
He clarified his position once again in a tweet after addressing reporters before the game.
“Let me clear up the confusion,” James tweeted. “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. … My team and this league just went through a difficult week. I think people need to understand what a tweet or statement can do to others. And I believe nobody stopped and considered what would happen. Could have waited a week to send it.”
Last week, when Golden State head coach Steve Kerr was asked about his initial reaction to the tweet — he had refused to comment, which was taken as tacitly supporting a league-profit-over-human-rights stance — he said that, while he would continue to comment on domestic issues, he was not educated enough to speak on Chinese human rights abuses or the league’s relationship with Beijing. The league has spent decades trying to expand their market in China.
“The same people who are asking me to stick to sports are also asking me to expand my horizons,” said Kerr, who has been a notable supporter of gun control legislation and a vocal critic of President Donald Trump. “I guess that’s what I’m hearing. Again, I will speak on the things I’m comfortable with. I will do things I believe are helpful for my country.”