LeBron James: Houston Rockets GM Was Not ‘Educated’ On Hong Kong

LeBron's $1 billion shoe deal relies on Chinese manufacturing

LeBron James Wikimedia Commons

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James on Monday said Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey's tweet supporting pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong was "misinformed or not really educated on the situation."

James told reporters that Morey has the "freedom of speech" to support whatever cause he wishes. The star forward accused the Rockets executive of being self-centered in his support for the activists. "There are ramifications for the negative that can happen when you're not thinking about others and you're only thinking about yourself," said James, who has a $1 billion sneaker deal with Nike.

These were James's first public comments since the Lakers returned from two exhibition games in China. The team was not made available to the media while in China because of Morey's tweet.

On October 4, Morey tweeted an image with the words "Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong," a slogan popular among Hong Kong's pro-democracy protesters. Chinese companies responded by cutting ties with the NBA, prompting apologies from the league and, in turn, backlash from American fans outraged at the response.

James cautioned Morey and other outspoken defenders of freedom in Hong Kong to speak more carefully about the subject for the sake of the NBA.

"So many people could have been harmed, not only financially but physically, emotionally, spiritually," James said. "So just be careful what we tweet and we say and what we do even though, yes, we do have freedom of speech. But there can be a lot of negative that comes with that, too."

James later clarified his remarks on Twitter, saying that he had not intended to criticize the "substance" of Morey's tweet.

James stands to gain significantly from a strong relationship with China. The basketball star has a lifetime endorsement deal with Nike, which manufactures its shoes in China, according to the Wall Street Journal.

James is not the only basketball figure to support China in the face of public scrutiny. Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr pivoted to criticizing American issues with gun control when asked about China's attempts to suppress protests in Hong Kong.

"People in China didn't ask me about, you know, people owning AR-15s and mowing each other down in a mall," Kerr said in a Thursday press conference, later adding, "the world is a complex place and there's more gray than black and white."

The surprising fealty towards China from the NBA—which often paints itself as permitting players greater freedom of expression, by allowing them to wear Chinese-manufactured shoes with political messages—has prompted harsh criticism of players who seem more loyal to a foreign power than to the United States.