NBA star LeBron James said to reporters on Tuesday that he was done talking about the conflict touched off when Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted support for protesters in Hong Kong, calling his Los Angeles Lakers’ recent trip to China “challenging” and saying that “if you were not there, you just can’t relate.”
The comments came a day after James criticized Morey for not being “educated on the situation at hand” in remarks that drew widespread condemnation.
“I’d be cheating my teammates by continuing to harp on something that won’t benefit us trying to win a championship, because that’s what we’re here for. We’re not politicians,” James told reporters Tuesday. “We are leaders, and we can step up at times, but there’s times — I’m not saying in this particular instance — but you know, if you don’t feel like you should speak upon things, you shouldn’t have to.”
James then went on to say that concerns in his local community are more important to him. The Lakers star has pledged to send 2,300 underprivileged kids in his hometown of Akron, Ohio to college if they hit certain educational-achievement benchmarks.
James has previously been known for his vocal political activism. “When you see something that’s unjust, or you see something that’s wrong, or you see something that’s trying to divide us,” he told ESPN’s SportsCenter in July 2018. “I feel like my voice can be heard and can speak volumes.”
ESPN’s Dave McMenamin reported Tuesday night that James and other players were blindsided by the Chinese backlash over Morey’s tweet, which included cancelled endorsement engagements. When NBA commissioner Adam Silver asked players during a meeting in Shanghai to face questions from reporters on the situation — telling them that freedom of expression is “what you guys stand for” — James reportedly challenged Silver on why Morey was not being punished by the league, saying a player in the same situation would have faced repercussions.
On Wednesday, The Wall Street Journal reported that pro-China troll accounts had coordinated a harassment campaign against Morey in the aftermath of his initial pro-Hong Kong tweet. There have also been reports of Hong Kong protesters burning James’s jersey in response to his condemnation of Morey.