Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James broke his silence regarding the controversy around Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey’s now-deleted tweet that declared support for anti-government protesters in Hong Kong.
“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,” James said before a preseason game Monday. “And so many people could have been harmed not only financially, physically, emotionally, spiritually.”
His comments come less than two weeks after Morey tweeted an image captioned: “Fight For Freedom. Stand With Hong Kong.” He quickly deleted it and apologized, saying he “did not intend my tweet to cause any offense to Rockets fans and friends of mine in China.”
However, backlash toward Morey and the NBA has continued. Chinese fans and the team’s partners in Beijing have expressed outrage at the NBA executive for backing the Chinese-ruled region, where protesters have for months been holding pro-democracy demonstrations that have led to violent clashes with police.
Meanwhile, others, including a bipartisan group of lawmakers, have bashed the NBA for caving to China rather than defending freedom of speech.
“It is outrageous that the NBA has caved to Chinese government demands for contrition,” Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.), Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and a handful of others wrote in a letter addressed to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver last week.
James later clarified in a tweet that he was not commenting on Morey’s tweet itself ― or “the substance” of the tweet ― but rather on the coach’s act of tweeting something political without thinking about the consequences.
“I believe nobody stopped and considered what would happen,” James said in a two-part tweet. “Could have waited a week to send it… I do not believe there was any consideration for the consequences and ramifications of the tweet.”
When asked by reporters about Morey’s tweet before the game, James said it’s important for players to “just be careful what we tweet and say and we do, even though, yes, we do have freedom of speech, but there can be a lot of negative that comes with that, too.”
After a video of James’ comments surfaced on social media, many criticized the player for his take.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) called James’ statement “unbelievable” in a tweet.
“News flash: people ARE being harmed – shot, beaten, gassed – right now in Hong Kong. By China,” Hawley added. “By the Communist Party the NBA is so eager to appease.”
Sasse accused James of “parroting communist propaganda.”
James reportedly raised concerns regarding how the players should handle questions while playing overseas in a meeting with the Lakers, the Brooklyn Nets and Silver last week.
According to The Athletic, which first reported news of the meeting, James expressed that “he believed that Silver and the NBA needed to explain and articulate the situation first, before the players would have to.”
Many in the NBA, including Golden State star Stephen Curry and his coach Steve Kerr, have been reluctant to voice their thoughts on the situation amid escalating tension between the NBA and China.
Last week, Chinese state broadcaster CCTV announced it would end its current broadcast arrangement to air the NBA’s preseason games in China.
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