Since tensions have risen around the NBA’s ordeal with China, reactions from many of the league’s prominent figures have trickled in.
Stephen Curry and Steve Kerr both pleaded no comment when asked about the controversy that started when Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted his support of Hong Kong protesters in their conflict with China’s government.
Commissioner Adam Silver vowed ahead of a trip to China that the league wouldn’t regulate speech after a previous league statement condemned Morey’s tweet as “regrettable.” Gregg Popovich praised Silver for his response as China was in the process of rolling back access to the league for its 1.4 billion citizens.
The league’s largest figure has yet to speak publicly on the issue fraught with human rights concerns, political tension and massive financial stakes.
LeBron James questioned Silver in meeting: Report
But according to a report from The Athletic’s Shams Charania, LeBron James addressed the topic directly with Silver last week as part of a meeting among members of the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets as they readied for their preseason showcase games in Shanghai.
According to the report, James expressed concern with Silver about players being put in a position of answering questions and representing the league overseas prior to the league making clear its stance on the controversy.
“Being in China, where there was no way of knowing what the Chinese government was thinking or going to do next and the high stakes between the U.S. and China politically, it was almost impossible for these young players to manage through that situation,” a source told Charania.
LeBron supports united front on China: Report
James also told Silver he believed the teams and players were in this together and should present a united public front.
He did so while speaking to Silver in front of everybody in the room that included Lakers and Nets players, according to the report. A source told Charania that Silver “worked with everyone in the room and heard them out.”
Charania also reports that Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma and Nets guard Kyrie Irving joined James in leading a players-only meeting after the initial meeting with Silver.
ESPN’s Rachel Nichols initially reported on the meeting with Silver last week. She reported that players in the meeting asked Silver if there would be repercussions for Morey, arguing that if a player’s tweet had cost the league millions of dollars, that player would pay a price.
China questions have since been shut down
Since that meeting, Rockets public relations shut down CNN’s Christina Macfarlane when she asked Harden and Russell Westbrook at a news conference their thoughts on the China issue and players’ freedom to speak about it.
Journalist gets quickly shut down when she asked James Harden, Russell Westbrook if they would refrain from speaking out on politics/social justice after China debacle... pic.twitter.com/VkXSWo0N0s— gifdsports (@gifdsports) October 10, 2019
A Rockets staffer announced that the news conference was for “basketball questions only.” Harden and Westbrook did not respond when Macfarlane pressed. But the league said later the Rockets mishandled the situation.
UPDATE: LeBron speaks
Back in Los Angeles for a preseason game against the Golden State Warriors Monday, James spoke publicly about the subject for the first time.
LeBron James on how he felt the NBA handled the situation in China and why he didn’t speak out pic.twitter.com/6DYCAs96IW— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) October 15, 2019
“I think when we talk about the political side, I think it’s a very delicate situation, a very sensitive situation,” James said. “Me personally ... when I speak about something, I speak about something I’m very knowledgable about, something that hits home for me, something I’m very passionate about.
“I felt like with this particular situation, there was something not only was I not informed enough about. I just felt like it was something that not only myself or my teammates or our organization had enough information to even talk about it at that point in time, and we still feel the same way.”
Asked about how the NBA handled the situation, James saved his criticism for Morey’s tweet.
“I’m not here to judge how the league handled the situation. I just think that when you’re misinformed or you’re not educated about something — I’m just talking about the tweet itself — you never know the ramifications that can happen. We all see what that did — not only did for our league but for all of us in America and people in China as well. Sometimes you have to think through the things that you say and may cause harm not only for yourself but for the majority of people. And I think that’s just a prime example.”
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