Los Angeles (AFP) - Basketball superstar LeBron James was accused of
turning a blind eye to Chinese repression on Tuesday after he
criticized a Houston Rockets executive for angering China with a
"misinformed" tweet supporting protesters in Hong Kong.
James told reporters that Rockets general manager Daryl Morey "wasn't
educated" on Hong Kong and should have kept his mouth shut, as the
outspoken Lakers forward waded into a charged debate that other high-
profile NBA figures have shied away from.
"So many people could have been harmed not only financially but
physically, emotionally and spiritually. So just be careful with what
we tweet, and we say, and we do," James told reporters when asked for
comment in Los Angeles after returning from the NBA's annual China
His remarks drew praise from Chinese social media users, who have
savaged Morey for butting into the country's affairs, but the US
reaction on Twitter was swift and harsh.
"@KingJames — you're parroting communist propaganda. China is running
torture camps and you know it," said Republican Senator Ben Sasse of
Nebraska, referring to China's reported incarceration of up to one
million Muslim Uighurs in prison-like camps.
The backlash in China against Morey's comments has cast a cloud over
the NBA's lucrative broadcasting, merchandising and sponsorship
interests in the country, where it has legions of fans.
But the NBA also is under pressure from US politicians and media
outlets who have urged the league not to buckle under the Chinese
Following his initial comments to reporters, James -- who has a
lucrative lifetime endorsement deal with Nike, which does big business
in China -- attempted to clarify his stance with a pair of subsequent
"Let me clear up the confusion. I do not believe there was any
consideration for the consequences and ramifications of (Morey's)
tweet. I'm not discussing the substance. Others can talk About that,"
James's Lakers and the Brooklyn Nets were thrust into the whirlwind
when they arrived in China last week for a pair of pre-season
exhibition games after Morey had tweeted: "Fight for Freedom. Stand
with Hong Kong."
- Difficult week -
The former British colony, now a semi-autonomous Chinese territory, has
been rocked by months of demonstrations by citizens who accuse Beijing
of chipping away at its freedoms.
China, however, portrays the protesters as violent separatists and
bristles at any foreign interference in the matter.
James complained in his subsequent tweets on Tuesday that Morey's
comments put the Lakers through a "difficult week" in China.
Twitter users pounced, saying acidly that Hong Kong's demonstrators and
China's Uighurs also were "having a difficult week".
Users also spread a doctored image showing James's smiling face imposed
on the giant portrait of Mao Zedong overlooking Tiananmen Square.
Chinese sponsors have cut ties with the NBA and broadcasters refused to
air the two exhibition games in China, sparking US accusations that
Beijing was using access to its vast market as leverage to dictate
speech in other countries.
Many in the US, including NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and top American politicians, have defended Morey's right to speak out, but James said
that right should be exercised with care.
"Yes, we do have freedom of speech, but there can be a lot of negative
that comes with that too," he said.
Several normally outspoken NBA figures, like Golden State Warriors
coach Steve Kerr and his star guard Stephen Curry, were criticized for declining to take a clear stand on the issue.
A hashtag lauding James's remarks became one of the most-searched on
Weibo, China's leading social media platform, with more than 94 million
views as of Tuesday afternoon.
One post suggested James should be the league's spokesman to the world:
"This is why we love you, the NBA's foreign ministry spokesman."
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