LeBron James is justly enduring a public-relations disaster because of his comments on the roiling controversies about the NBA’s relationship with China. He called the Daryl Morey tweet that offended Chinese authorities “misinformed” and made the normally anodyne point that free speech can have adverse consequences for the speaker.
But China isn’t interested in free speech, and the consequences for the NBA are the intended result of government coercion.
James is politically outspoken against the American president, and on behalf of most social-justice causes. He has accepted comparisons to Muhammad Ali, and claimed to want the burden of making things better for minorities in the next generation.
And that’s why his comments about Daryl Morey being “misinformed” strike us as so unusually ill-founded. The same applies to coach Steve Kerr, who drew out an implicit moral equivalence by restating his own criticisms of American life and government.
There is nothing “misinformed” about supporting the Hong Kong protestors, and deploring the Chinese Communist Party. China is still a country of forced abortions. It’s a country of open, systematic, state-led ethnic and religious persecution. It’s a country of social censorship. It’s a country of Kafkaesque social policy: millions of Chinese people who were born illegally as second or third children have no right to education or work, and some do not even have their births registered.
I think Americans actually would show some understanding and patience with NBA players and personalities that remained discreetly silent. The league’s lucrative involvement in China dates to a time when hopes for China’s liberalization seemed more realistic. And the league’s players may be correct in calculating that any protests against Chinese human-rights abuses from them would not have any salutary effect on China, and could possibly have an adverse one, making Hong Kongers look like subjects of American intrigue rather than genuine interest.
But LeBron’s political self-regard, his financial interests, and his silence simply paint a damning picture.