Now back in the United States, after a week soaking up the controversy, LeBron James finally spoke about the NBA’s free speech saga in China. It would appear he did not spend one second of that week carefully measuring what he would eventually say in front of cameras.
In a pretty clumsy response to a media question before the Lakers’ preseason game against the Warriors on Monday, LeBron criticized Rockets general manager Daryl Morey and no one else. LeBron’s beef with Morey is that he potentially put players and league officials heading to China at risk. (Morey was in Japan when he made the infamous tweet; the Lakers and Nets were en route to China.)
Here’s the money sentence from LeBron’s comments, courtesy of Silver Screen and Roll: “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, and so many people could have been harmed, not only financially, but physically. Emotionally. Spiritually. So just be careful what we tweet and what we say, and what we do.”
LeBron followed up with two tweets, the first clarifying he wasn’t explicitly standing with China on the substance of Morey’s tweet and the second reiterating that Morey’s timing on the tweet is his issue. If you have to issue clarifying tweets after your first comment in a week, you’re in a bad spot.
Let’s be clear: LeBron has no obligation to speak out about China or anything. Free speech contains within it the right not to comment. You will be judged for silence as readily as you will be judged for comment (as Steve Kerr is finding out), but you don’t have to say anything about the human suffering du jour if you so choose. And further, LeBron raises a good point that this episode did make things unpleasant and awkward for people who had nothing to do with the decision to tweet about Hong Kong. That’s true! The Lakers and Nets unfairly bore some weight of Morey’s decision.
But when you speak narrowly about this saga and your only attack is reserved for the only participant who expressed support for the democratic values espoused by protesters, that’s a problem. Morey lit a candle, and maybe that made the room uncomfortably warm for LeBron. But Morey didn’t torch the couch and drapes with that candle — that was the Chinese government. Morey didn’t fail to check the batteries in the smoke detectors — that was the NBA. Morey didn’t pour gasoline on the fire — that was the Chinese government. Morey didn’t lock everyone in the burning building — that was the NBA.
LeBron found it easier to criticize Morey than to attack China for its outsized reaction (to say nothing of the human rights issues at the core of the saga) or to attack Adam Silver for being wholly unprepared for something like this and for keeping the teams there through the whole saga. But LeBron should know that the easiest path isn’t always the right one.
This episode doesn’t diminish LeBron’s social advocacy on domestic issues. He’s made real, positive change for kids in Akron and beyond. But this is something that will stick with LeBron and change the way a certain segment of people who have championed him see him.
Three preseason games on Tuesday, one of which is televised nationally.
Pistons at 76ers, 7 p.m. ET, NBA TV
We are seven days from opening night.
I have many regrets, but none so potent as my regret for not building a condo tower on Tyler Herro Hill back in mid-July. I took a break from Kentucky last college season and so didn’t realize what a joy Herro was to watch until Summer League. Now I think the entire planet must be aware.
Herro scored Miami’s first 14 points against the Hawks on Tuesday on his way to 23 for the game. He’s Dion Waiters’ long-lost spiritual twin. He’s Dwyane Wade’s stylistic descendant. He’s fearless and smooth and loud in all the right ways.
Protect Herro at all costs.
Huge, important, scary story by Baxter Holmes on the NBA’s bad relationship with sleep and the science that explains why it’s such a big problem.
Caitlin Cooper on Malcolm Brogdon’s impact on the Pacers’ offense. Always read Coop.
Shams Charania on what happened inside a players’ only meeting in China.
Kevin O’Connor on the Kristaps Porzingis-Luka Doncic pairing in Dallas.
Excited to listen to the first No Dunks podcast!
A celebration of the film classic Little Giants.
And finally: Ethan Strauss on how the NBA’s most outspoken personalities could talk about the China issue.
Be excellent to each other.