NBA superstar LeBron James may not have limited himself to odd public comments about the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, he may have actually pressured league commissioner Adam Silver to punish the Houston Rockets GM who tweeted his support for demonstrators over fears James and the NBA could lose Chinese business.
The Daily Caller and The Athletic report that James, concerned with his and the league’s bottom line, leaned Silver to punish Daryl Morey for his comments, claiming that NBA players would be fined or benched for decisions that had a financial cost.
“Nearly a week ago today, in a Shanghai hotel room, or Shanghai hotel ballroom, Adam Silver got up and addressed the players, and LeBron James is one of the players who got up and spoke and said, ‘Hey, what are we doing here? Daryl Morey made these statements,’” Dave McMenamin of ESPN noted, according to both outlets. “You know damn well if a player made the same statements and caused such poor ramifications for the league, there would be some sort of league recourse.”
“There would be repercussions the player has to pay. You know, potentially this tweet could cost the NBA hundreds of millions of dollars. That could come out of the players’ pockets, and so that’s the double standard that was being addressed in that meeting,” McMenamin added in his interview.
The Athletic adds that the comments were made October 9th, ahead of a pre-season game played in Shanghai.
James has insisted, several times since Morey’s tweet, that the Houston Rockets GM’s pro-democracy Tweet has a financial cost to both the league and its players — a concern he apparently resurfaced in the team’s Shanghai meeting with league officials.
In his first, widely panned comment on the matter, James told reporters that Morey was not “educated” on the situation in Hong Kong, and that his lack of information could affect the NBA’s bottom line.
“We all talk about this freedom of speech — yes, we all do have freedom of speech, but at times there are ramifications for the negative that can happen when you’re not thinking about others and only thinking about yourself,” James told gathered media Monday. “I don’t want to get into a word or sentence feud with Daryl Morey, but I believe he wasn’t educated on the situation at hand.”
“So many people could have been harmed not only financially, but physically, emotionally, spiritually,” James added. He later claimed on social media that he had no problem with Morey’s Tweet, so it seems he’s been considering the issue from a business perspective.
Sports Illustrated points out that James and others have a lot to lose if the league’s relationship with China turns sour, and that could be why the high-profile social justice warrior is shying away from supporting freedom and democracy abroad when he’s often been so determined to use his platform to push his personal political views.
“The league has a $1.5 billion contract with Chinese tech giant Tencent as well as relationships with China’s CCTV Sports Channel, the smartphone company Vivo and other Chinese companies,” Sports Illustrated reports, adding that players eventually get a cut of those earnings. Several players also have their own Chinese endorsement deals, with Chinese-only sneaker companies like Li-Ning and Anta.
James is particularly vulnerable. “He holds a lifetime deal valued at $1 billion with sports retail giant Nike, which saw its sales in China surge 27 percent to nearly $1.7 billion in its most recent fiscal quarter alone. James’ signature sneaker line is one of Nike’s most prominent offerings,” Fox Business reports. And there’s a Hollywood connection: James is set to star in “Space Jam 2,” and there’s no doubt producers for that movie are planning on big box office returns from Chinese audiences.