LeBron James breaks his silence on NBA-China dispute

For the first time, LeBron James is taking on the standoff between the NBA and China. On Monday night, the basketball star said Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey was “misinformed” or “not really educated” when he sent a tweet last week in support of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.

The Los Angeles Lakers won a preseason game Monday night, but comments from James before tip-off arguably overshadowed the win. He is considered one of the most influential players in history, with a four-year, $152 million deal with the Lakers. But reaction to his statements shows he doesn’t speak for everyone in the league.

“I believe he wasn’t educated on the situation at hand,” James said. “So many people could have been harmed, not only financially, but emotionally, physically, spiritually … Yes, we do have freedom of speech, but there can be a lot of negative because of that too.”

Morey’s support of the Hong Kong protesters jilted the profitable relationship between the NBA and China. The NBA’s damage control began last week after Morey tweeted an image saying “Fight for freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.” The tweet was posted days before the Lakers were scheduled to play preseason games in China. The Chinese government was furious, stripping down NBA signs and canceling the players’ media appearances and team events.

“His voice really goes a long way, there’s no question he’s the most influential player voice in the league,” said Washington Post reporter Ben Golliver, who covers James and the Lakers. “Why doesn’t he stand up for Daryl Morey’s tweet, which most people wouldn’t consider to be that controversial here in the United States, basically saying fight for freedom and stand with the protesters. We didn’t hear any of those words from LeBron.”

James tried to clarify his comments last night on Twitter, writing: “I do not believe there was any consideration for the consequences and ramifications of the tweet. I’m not discussing the substance.”

The NBA has since been working to fix the relationship with a major market across the Pacific.

“They wanted to stand up for his freedom of expression, but they also wanted to make it clear that they had respect for China’s history and its government. Essentially, they didn’t want to anger a very important business partner,” Golliver said.

The NBA’s relationship with China goes back decades. It’s a huge source of revenue for the league, and it’s worth billions in merchandise sales, media rights, streaming and more. More people watch the NBA finals in China than in the United States.

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