It wasn’t as tone deaf as The Decision but LeBron James choosing sides in the NBA-China fist fight was a rare moment for him. He usually is better prepared and can shape shift the positive with the negative in an insightful reflection that has always set him above his peers. He understands oppression in the world. He didn’t hesitate to embrace Trayvon Martin and Colin Kapernick. Once, when he was in Cleveland, a little girl was killed in a drive-by and he used his social media feed to say stop it. Stop using guns to kill us. He is animated when it comes to Donald Trump, he agrees with paying college athletes, he opened a school to educate the child he was, always moving around, always missing days of school. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, the saying goes. So of all the things LeBron could have said about this China brouhaha, last on the list would be looking the other way because of money interests. The NBA’s best player has often used his political leverage to champion victims and empathy but on a Monday night in front of the media he was being, well, an imposter.
Everyone likes to say this is a complex issue. For sure, there are multiple sides and agendas and history and culture and everyone has something to lose. China, if they divorce the NBA, will suffer; they monetize American basketball just as we do. 600 million Chinese watched NBA basketball last year. A lot of Chinese businesses made money. (20 million Americans watched the NBA in the United States.) But this is about more than money, even if culture has proven a predictably steep cliff.
Daryl Morey’s tweet was about freedom. He had the freedom to say it. LeBron used his freedom in another way, to anti-sympathize with human struggle and the oppressed. He used his freedom to conflate consequences with intelligence. And to bash Daryl Morey.
Sure, Daryl Morey should have paused. He could have thought about the consequences of his tweet considering the Lakers and Nets were about to leave for China. But how many people actually sit and reflect before they push send. Morey didn’t anticipate an international incident, that it would come to this fork in the road. Nor, was Morey uninformed. That shady remark alone was enough to give LeBron the eyeroll. To say someone is misinformed is passive-aggressively saying he’s stupid.
Northwestern and MIT grad Morey is neither stupid nor misinformed. He was supporting the oppressed. It wasn’t LeBron’s place to publicly blast Morey as if he was the villain when he won the moral argument. Just because the communists who LeBron is in business with are backing away now that Morey expressed his emotions doesn’t give a peeved LeBron equivalency.
There were a lot of things LeBron could have said in response to the tense situation the NBA finds itself in. He could have said he supports oppressed people. He could have harkened back, as he has done before, to when African Americans were marching for rights and were hosed down by the police. Or, South Africans marching against apartheid. He could have said it feels familiar. He could have praised those who have a lot to lose, even their lives. He could have…
But he didn’t and here we are.
Purely by accident, the game’s best player, inadvertently, may have built a bridge from which China can enter into a thin NBA truce. All China wants is someone to say Daryl Morey was wrong. They want a NBA official, perhaps Adam Silver, to punish Morey. LeBron doing it is second best.
If you scan his social media feed, it’s apparent LeBron James reveres Martin Luther King. But when it’s convenient for him. Despite the rhetoric, LeBron picks and chooses what sparks his conscience. He didn’t tweet about black kids and suicide. The recent news is it’s trending up. Or, the murder of Atatiana Jefferson in her Fort Worth house. Or, Russia moving in since the U.S. has moved out of Syria prompting fears of genocide on Trump’s watch. LeBron, like the rest of us, is selective about what triggers him and what he is willing to share with the world. That it was a pro-China stance and a Daryl Morey slap is disappointing because LeBron was himself misinformed at Morey’s intentions. At the very least, he could have called Morey to get the facts and his side, to find out what his intentions were, what he was feeling at the time.
His Republican enemies see an opening and are piling on. They tried to box him in with Shut Up and Dribble. Now they call him a sellout for not scrutinizing China the way he scrutinizes the systems that oppress black men. He cherry picks who of the discriminated receives his empathy. He marginalized the Hong Kong protestors, not even giving them a mention, as if they don’t matter, their humanity doesn’t, their struggle doesn’t, their fight for freedom doesn’t.
The math comes down to this. LeBron is pissed at Daryl Morey. Why so angry? Because the only thing people hate more than losing money is the person who lost it for them.