Hours after LeBron James described Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey as “not educated” and “misinformed,” the Los Angeles Lakers forward’s jersey was burning in the streets of Hong Kong.
James made his first public comments Monday on the international controversy that has engulfed the NBA and garnered the attention of government officials from China to the United States.
He chastised Morey, claiming that “so many people could have been harmed, not only financially but physically, emotionally, spiritually” for his tweet supporting pro-democracy Hong Kong protesters in their conflict with an oppressive communist regime in China.
Protesters target James after Morey comments
Protesters in Hong Kong on Tuesday shot basketballs off an image of James’ face attached to a backboard and lit a replica of his jersey on fire. They also held signs of support, thanking Morey for speaking out.
‘Hong Kong people are really suffering’
“Hong Kong people are really suffering right now,” web designer and basketball fan James Lo told the Associated Press. “Now you come off a speech like that, we are very angry. People start burning his jersey … just because of his speech.”
James’ comments echoed a refrain common in NBA circles that appears to prioritize the league’s significant financial interests in China over the human rights issues at stake in Hong Kong and Morey’s ability to speak freely on the subject.
China immediately condemned Morey’s since-deleted Oct. 5 tweet that read “Fight For Freedom. Stand With Hong Kong” and has since taken steps to limit access to the NBA through state-run media to its 1.4 billion citizens.
NBA’s controversial response
The NBA’s initial response to Morey’s tweet condemned it as “regrettable” in an official league statement. NBA commissioner Adam Silver has since vowed that the league won’t regulate speech as prominent figures such as James, Steve Kerr and Stephen Curry have declined to address the Hong Kong protests directly, claiming they aren’t informed enough on the issue to do so.
James at odds with Hong Kong priorities
James appeared to be speaking about the financial and political backlash against the NBA rather than the larger Hong Kong issue when he spoke Monday about “harm” caused by Morey’s tweet.
“Sometimes you have to think through the things that you say and may cause harm not only for yourself but for the majority of people,” James said. “And I think that’s just a prime example.”
Lo deemed James’ stance unacceptable.
“Students, they come out like every weekend,” Lo said. “They’ve got tear-gassed and then they got gun shot, like every weekend. Police beating students and then innocent people, like every day. And then he [James] just comes up with something [like] that. We just can’t accept that.”
Another protester — 36-year-old office worker William Mok — compared the plight of the people of Hong Kong to a cause commonly supported in NBA circles.
“Please remember, all NBA players, what you said before: ‘Black lives matter.’ Hong Kong lives also matter.”