Daryl Morey, the General Manager of the National Basketball Association’s Houston Rockets, sent out a now-deleted tweet in support of Hong Kong on Oct. 4. The tweet read, “Fight for Freedom, Stand with Hong Kong.”
The tweet was in response to the months-long Hong Kong anti-government protests. As a representative of the NBA, Morey and his tweet immediately became the subject of criticism from the official Chinese Basketball Association. The Chinese consulate in Houston released a statement that expressed “strong dissatisfaction” with Morey’s tweet, according to CBS Sports. The lack of support for Morey’s stance continued when Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta distanced himself from Morey’s tweet, stating that Morey does not speak for the Rockets organization, all in an effort to not lose revenue from China’s media market, which is estimated at $4 billion, according to the Atlantic.
The NBA has been praised in recent years for being a league that addresses and supports conversations about social justice issues, but in this situation they are being hypocritical by silencing the discussion of this issue among members of the league.
The NBA’s initial response called Morey’s tweet “regrettable” for offending fans and people in China. This response was met with backlash from Chinese NBA fans for the league not standing up to China on this human rights issue.
The NBA, along with other companies in the media, are too deep in China’s pocket and are too influenced by China. Along with the NBA gaining an estimated $4 billion in revenue from China, Nike gains annual revenue of $1.6 billion in China, according to Market Watch.
The NBA needs to stop bending to China’s influence. They have to choose their own morals instead of allowing China to enable censorship of the anti-government protest in Hong Kong.
After its initial statement, the NBA appeared instead to show that they prioritize their business relations with China. In a revised statement, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver mentioned how “the NBA will not put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees and team owners say or will not say on these issues. We simply could not operate that way.”
In addition, Nike pulled all Rockets-related merchandise from several of their Nike stores in major Chinese cities amid the outcry following the tweet, according to the Daily Wire. Nike’s response to Morey’s tweet shows how Nike’s iconic slogan “Just Do It” seemingly only applies with China’s permission.
When journalist Laura Ingraham told NBA star LeBron James in 2018 to “shut up and dribble” following political comments, he used that quote to help create a platform for himself to discuss social justice issues and politics, saying he was “more than an athlete.”
On Monday night, James spoke for the first time about the incident, calling Morey “misinformed” before sending out his controversial tweet and also saying, “We all talk about this freedom of speech—yes, we all do have freedom of speech, but at times there are ramifications and the negative that can happen when you’re not thinking about others and you’re only thinking about yourself.”
In his response, James essentially called Morey selfish for tweeting out in support of his beliefs about a social justice issue. James has been the face of the NBA for over 10 years at this point. He has been very outspoken on social issues, such as racism, politics and education for children, and he should be praised for it. He even helped build and fund his own school for at-risk children in Akron, Ohio. Now, however, after being silent on the issue for nearly two weeks, he commented and not only refused to speak out against the events happening in Hong Kong but also responded in a way that attacked Morey. As the most influential member of the NBA in terms of global recognition, James should have instead supported Morey and should have spoken out against China, even if it might cost him and the league potential revenue.
It is understandable why athletes do not want to get involved in this incident, since there is a strong possibility the NBA would lose close to $4 billion in revenue.
However, if athletes, the NBA and associated companies come out to make social justice statements and marketing campaigns that support their brand, they need to stay consistent and speak out to support others, including against the violence in Hong Kong.
This is the opinion of Miles Thomas, a junior communications studies major from Hermosa Beach, California. Tweet comments to @LALoyolan or email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.