Thu, Oct 17, 2019 - Page 16 News List

As NBA-China rift continues, James enters spotlight

AP, EL SEGUNDO, California

LeBron James has stepped into the spotlight of the now-strained relationship between the NBA and China with his comments about the league executive, who started the ongoing fallout with what James derided as a “misinformed” tweet.

Politicians, human rights groups and ordinary fans on social media have criticized the outspoken superstar, questioning the motivation of James’ comments.

On Monday, James spoke out, his seven-minute session with reporters putting him squarely in the center of the ongoing international schism.

Houston general manager Daryl Morey was “not really educated on the situation” when he sent out that since-deleted Oct. 4 tweet showing support for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests, James said.

On Tuesday, James acknowledged the criticism and said he expected that it would be coming.

“Obviously, it’s a tough situation that we’re all in right now... I think when an issue comes up, if you feel passionate about it or you feel like it’s something you want to talk about, then so be it,” James said. “I also don’t think that every issue should be everybody’s problem as well.”

Monday’s comments unleashed an immediate backlash against James, who has often spoken out on social and political matters, with some expressing dismay that this time he seemed more concerned with protecting his own brand and financial interests in China, where he enjoys enormous popularity.

“I’ve always been welcomed with open arms,” James said. “I’ve been to China probably 15 to 20 times ... to have this beautiful game that we all love to be able to bring people together in the most positive way.”

That is not the case right now. James was in China last week for the two games between his Los Angeles Lakers and the Brooklyn Nets that were played under the most unusual circumstances: with no pre-game or post-game media sessions — first by decree of the Chinese and then from the NBA — and with several major league Chinese partners pulling their support of the exhibition matchups.

With the Lakers and Nets now home, the rift and debate continues about what the league should have done, reinvigorated by James speaking out.

“The situation ... has flared up again,” said Matt Powell, a sports business analyst at research firm the NPD Group. “LeBron is getting a lot of criticism on social media.”

It was not limited to Twitter.

Protesters in Hong Kong on Tuesday trampled on James’ jerseys, burning one, and threw basketballs at a photograph of the four-time NBA MVP — a global sports icon whose image has taken a clear hit.

Among James’ comments on Monday night, his first publicly shared thoughts on the matter: “So many people could have been harmed, not only financially but emotionally, physically and spiritually” by Morey’s tweet.

James said his reaction to Morey’s tweet was not about substance, but about the Rockets’ executive not considering the ramifications — or the timing — while he and his teammates were in China.

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