STATUS UPDATE: While Hong Kong protestors were photographed burning shirts imprinted with LeBron James’ name on Tuesday, Nike, his leading sponsor, did not respond to a request for comment regarding his pro-China stance.
The Los Angeles Lakers star is the latest NBA player to get caught in the firestorm that was sparked by the Houston Rockets’ general manager Daryl Morey’s pro-Hong Kong tweet. That led to an international kerfuffle, with backlash from Chinese companies and consumers. Morey subsequently deleted the controversial tweet. China Central Television, for example, boycotted broadcasting NBA pre-season games in China. Tencent Holdings, however, live-streamed two NBA games Monday played outside of China.
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Before the Lakers played the Golden State Warriors Monday night, James told reporters that Morey “wasn’t educated on the situation at hand. And he spoke. And so many people could have been harmed, not only financially but emotionally, physically and spiritually.”
James later appeared to try to tamp down the situation on Twitter with this post: “My team and this league just went through a difficult week. 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.”
A minute earlier he had posted, “Let me clear up the confusion. I do not believe there was any consideration for the consequences and ramifications of the tweet. I’m not discussing the substance. Others can talk about that.”
With a reported estimated net worth of $450 million, James has a range of endorsement deals and business ventures, including a lifetime endorsement deal with Nike. James first started working with Nike in 2003 and his lifetime deal could reportedly reap a $1 billion windfall for James. A Nike spokesman did not respond to requests for comment regarding James’ controversial tweet.
James’ five-year endorsement deal with Audemars Piguet has ended, but he remains a friend of the brand, having collaborated on a watch for the Royal Oak Offshore’s 25th anniversary last fall. An Audemars Piguet spokesman declined to comment Tuesday, since James no longer has a formal relationship with the luxury watch maker.
Intel is another global company that James endorsed in the past. An Intel spokesman declined to comment other than to specify that James’ endorsement deal with the company ended last year.
Dunkin is another brand that James worked with in the past. A Dunkin spokeswoman said Tuesday, “Our marketing partnership with LeBron James in select Asian markets ended at the end of February 2014 as a result of the previously determined end date of the two-year marketing agreement, which was announced in March 2012.”
The entrepreneurial James is known to invest in select companies that he works with, such as Blaze pizza and Beats By Dre. He and his business partner Maverick Carter recently launched apparel and e-commerce on their multidimensional platform Uninterrupted. They also have a stake in Liverpool F.C., among other business ventures. A Beats By Dre spokeswoman declined to comment on the James situation or the status of James’ deal. She also declined to comment on Beats By Dre’s marketing and merchandising partnership with the NBA, as the official headphone, wireless speaker and audio partner for the NBA, Women’s National Basketball Association, NBA G League and USA Basketball.
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