“Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong.” With these words, Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey began the biggest international economic catastrophe an American sports league has ever faced. According to some estimates, this now-deleted tweet has the potential to cost the NBA $1 billion in Chinese revenue. And the fun only starts there.
All of this excitement began on October 4, when Morey tweeted out what I would classify as normal stance on the American opinion of China. It is widely understood that China is not exactly a bastion of freedom, and as I’ve mentioned in previous articles, the history between China and Hong Kong is extremely complicated and deserves way more attention than I can give it here. Suffice it to say that the people of Hong Kong do not exactly share the freedoms we do here in America. So it’s understandable that we would offer our support to the people of Hong Kong.
That support lasted like three days. Morey deleted the tweet amidst a backlash from the Chinese government. The NBA has an extremely lucrative deal in China, one that dates back to the early 2000s when a certain 7’5” giant named Yao was drafted first overall by the Houston Rockets (the same Rockets that currently employs Morey). Instantly, the NBA became a focal point in China, and the Rockets gained a new billion-person fan base. Once Morey tweeted something that seemed to condemn the Chinese government, all previous deals with the NBA were in question. TV airings of games on state-controlled TV were canceled, NBA merchandise was removed from stores, and Chinese business ties with the NBA were slowly becoming jeopardized.
This put the NBA and Commissioner Adam Silver in an awkward spot, to say the least, especially as the NBA was in the middle of a tour of Eastern Asia at the time. The NBA has become the “wokest” of all the sports league. As soon as Adam Silver took over the commissioner role, Americans were given a taste of what was to come. Silver put a lifetime ban on former Clippers owner Donald Sterling for racist comments made to his estranged mistress. The NBA then took a harsh stance on North Carolina’s so-called “Bathroom Bill,” which required individuals in public buildings to use the bathroom of their sex as opposed to their gender. Players and coaches are encouraged to speak their mind on social and political issues. While the NFL had a season-long national anthem issue that garnered much media attention, the NBA has a culture of progressive activism from the inside-out.
Now, let’s take a look at some of the ways these progressive players and coaches handled this situation. We’ll start with one of the loudest individuals on social and political issues, Golden State Warrior’s coach and eight-time NBA champion, Steve Kerr. In the past, Kerr has not shied away from political opinions. He’s very critical of President Trump and is a strong advocate for gun restrictions. However, when discussing Morey’s tweet and the subsequent fallout, Kerr stated: “The world is a complex place and there’s more gray than black and white.” That is an ignorant response. Read a book, Kerr. Watch the news, Kerr. Answer a hard question, Kerr. If you’re telling me that the issues between China and Hong Kong are gray, but gun control is black and white, you’re either lying or are a moron. Probably both.
Let’s move on to the most recognizable name and face in the NBA, LeBron James. James was silent for a good week on this issue, giving me the impression that he wisely was going to stay out of this issue altogether. But James broke his silence with a blissfully ignorant statement. James told reporters, “We all talk about this freedom of speech, yes, we all do have freedom of speech. But at times there are ramifications for the negative that can happen when you’re not thinking about others and you’re only thinking about yourself.” While LeBron is correct here in his facts, he is completely missing the point of said facts. He calls out Morey for using his freedom of speech while not thinking of the consequences of his words – who they could affect, who they could hurt. Dear G-d! LeBron James is viewing himself as a victim here! Morey’s statement negatively impacted NBA players and owners, and James thinks that should have been priority one. James later added that he didn’t believe that Morey was “educated on the situation at hand.” Don’t misunderstand that. He’s not saying that Morey wasn’t educated about China. The situation he’s referring to is the NBA’s business ties to China.
This is a far cry from what James was saying earlier this year about Colin Kaepernick, the former NFL quarterback who led the national anthem protest in 2016: “I think it’s important to stick up for what you believe in… Anybody who could sacrifice their livelihood for the better of all of us, I could respect that.” James doesn’t care about political or social issues, international or domestic. He uses them to further his own bottom line. If the issue is detrimental to his bottom line, others need to “educate themselves” on the topic.
Let’s close with perhaps the most shocking statement of all involved, and it comes from the wokemaster general, Commissioner Adam Silver. Speaking at the Time 100 Health Summit, Silver stated that “the coverage, frankly, was confusing to me when I got home…only because I felt that we had taken a principled position. I thought we hadn’t so-called acquiesced to the Chinese.” No, Adam. You took no principled position. You stood up for free speech, great. You didn’t fire Morey despite the Chinese government asking you to do so (a request the Chinese government denies making – whatever that’s worth). Your initial statement and the subsequent clarifications took no stance on China. This is a far cry from the stance you took on North Carolina. In that instance, you threatened to move the NBA All-Star game if the law didn’t change. And don’t come back with the excuse that you stay out of international matters and are only interested in domestic affairs. The NBA is a global brand. Either you have an opinion on issues that affect people everywhere your brand reaches, or you don’t. There is no gray area here. You want your brand in politics? You got it. You don’t get to choose which human rights issues you delve into, and which you ignore, especially after your own employee dragged you into one.
We often hear the phrase “speak truth to power” being thrown around when it comes to how important it is to speak your mind regardless of the consequences brought down upon us by a higher authority if the message is correct. I’ve got news for you, Adam, Steve, LeBron. You never have been speaking truth to power. You are the power. You’re the ones with sway over millions of people the world over. Stop putting yourselves on pedestals you yourselves invented. Start following that slogan that Nike puts in its ads. You remember Nike, don’t you? They are that sneaker company that pays many of your athletes millions in endorsement deals. Remember that ad? Believe in something, even if it means giving up everything. The only thing you all believe in is yourselves.
Izzo Zwiren is the host of The Jewish Living Podcast, where he and his guests delve into any and all areas of Orthodox Judaism.