“James was trying to take a side, on the China side, which is, like, ridiculous,” Aaron Lee, a 36-year-old marketing director, said while attending the anti-James, pro-Morey demonstration (via the Associated Press). “He was being honest, financially. Simple as that.
“LeBron James stands for money. Period.”
Of Morey’s tweet — which was posted Oct. 4 and quickly deleted, and which read, “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.” — James said to reporters Monday that “so many people could have been harmed not only financially, but physically, emotionally, spiritually.”
Saying “we do have freedom of speech, but there can be a lot of negative that comes with that, too,” James added that Morey was “either misinformed or not really educated on the situation.”
The 34-year-old forward, who was in China with his Lakers for a pair of exhibition games while the firestorm raged over Morey’s tweet and the NBA’s response to it, subsequently posted to Twitter to “clear up the confusion.” He said he wasn’t “discussing the substance” of Morey’s tweet but rather addressing “the consequences and ramifications” of it.
“My team and this league just went through a difficult week,” James tweeted. “I think people need to understand what a tweet or statement can do to others. And I believe nobody stopped and considered what would happen. Could have waited a week to send it.”
Those statements on Twitter appeared to do little at the time to mollify James’s critics, many of whom painted him as a greedy hypocrite for having spoken out in the past on issues of social injustice in the United States but seeming now, as they saw it, to be kowtowing to China’s authoritarian regime.
In Hong Kong, a crowd alternated chants of “Thank you Morey” with “[expletive] off James.” A photo of James was affixed to a basketball hoop’s backboard, and people cheered as shot attempts bounced off it.
“It is so hurtful to us that [James], the face of the NBA, would speak up for freedom of speech in America while dismissing Hong Kong, when we are suffering every weekend,” said James Lo, a 30-year-old who wore a Lakers jersey to the demonstration. “I know it is about business. I know that China has 1.4 billion and we are just 7 million. But the NBA should be protecting their values, not their money.”
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver spoke of his league’s “values” in a statement last week, one that followed an initial NBA reaction to Morey’s tweet that drew criticism for being overly solicitous toward the anger emanating from China.
James said Monday that Morey’s tweet set up a “tough situation” for Silver, who was forced to try to “put out such a fire that he didn’t create and he didn’t start.”
On Tuesday, the four-time NBA MVP again spoke with reporters and addressed his comments, saying (via USA Today), “When the issue comes up and you feel passionate about it and you feel like it’s something you want to talk about, then so be it."
“I also don’t think every issue should be everybody’s problem as well,” James added. “When things come up, there’s multiple things that we haven’t talked about that have happened in our own country that we don’t bring up.”
Asked if he saw video of Hong Kong protesters burning his jersey, James said that he had not and thus did not have a reaction to it.
“It is clear that [James] was not prepared for the backlash that would ensue, and his follow-up responses where he attempted to backpedal made him look a bit foolish,” public relations executive and crisis expert Ronn Torossian said in a statement Tuesday. “It would have been better to either stick to his guns or completely retract the statement — now, he just looks like someone who bowed to the pressure of a big organization like the NBA.”
That said, Torossian said the demonstrations in Hong Kong would not affect James very much.
“LeBron doesn’t really have a vested interest in how he is perceived in Hong Kong,” Torossian wrote in an email exchange with The Post. “His interests lie in his core U.S. fan base as well as supporting the league’s interests in China — attempting to make nice with Hong Kong would only further complicate the situation.”
So going forward, what should the strategy be for the NBA’s biggest and most marketable star? “The best track for him to take now is to stop talking about it," Torossian wrote. “Let the story blow over as the season starts and the news moves to his game play.”
James can certainly hope that’s how things play out, but in Hong Kong, his brand may never fully recover.
“We are very angry,” Lo told the AP, showing video of a James jersey being burned. “Students, they come out every weekend. 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 [James] just comes up with something [like] that. We just can’t accept that.”
Shibani Mahtani contributed reporting from Hong Kong.