LeBron air-balls his opportunity to address China, Daryl Morey controversy

Of all the bizarre, confusing and, frankly, ridiculous things LeBron James had to say Monday about the ongoing controversy between the NBA and China, here was the most troubling.

In criticizing Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, James decided to mimic the many wrong-headed critics who rip the league’s biggest star when he weighs in on various political and social issues.

He essentially told Morey to shut up and dribble … or at least shut up and study advanced analytics or shut up and crunch salary-cap numbers or shut up and do whatever the general manager equivalent of dribbling is.

“I don’t want to get into a [verbal] feud with Daryl Morey, but I believe he wasn’t educated on the situation at hand, and he spoke,” James said Monday before a Los Angeles Lakers preseason game. “And so many people could have been harmed, not only financially, [but] physically, emotionally, spiritually.

“So just be careful what we tweet and say and we do, even though, yes, we do have freedom of speech, but there can be a lot of negative that comes with that, too.”

There is a ton to unpack there, but let’s start with this. Yes, LeBron, there can be a lot of negatives that come with freedom of speech, but it sure isn’t close to the negatives that come from not having freedom of speech.

This isn’t a free speech issue though. That involves the government silencing its citizens. And while the NBA and the Rockets and the Chinese communists aren’t happy with Morey retweeting a pro-Hong Kong protest message on Oct. 4, he, as an American, is not facing any legal ramifications here in the United States. Mercifully, our government doesn’t work like China’s.

Instead, what Morey is dealing with is the backlash from his bosses, and apparently NBA superstars, who are upset that he might have messed with their already considerable money.

That comes with speaking out, though. LeBron should know. When he talks about anything other than basketball, he accepts the same risks, whether it is regarding police shootings or pay for college athletes. It can earn you fans and customers and respect. It can also cost you fans and customers and respect.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 14:  LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts to a the Laker offense during the first half against the Golden State Warriors at Staples Center on October 14, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

LeBron doesn’t just accept this, he embraces it. In 2018, when he criticized Donald Trump for “not caring about the people” of this country, Fox News personality Laura Ingraham told him to “keep the politics to yourself” and “shut up and dribble.” He rightly bristled at the suggestion.

“I will definitely not do that,” LeBron said at the time.

LeBron even started his own media company — Uninterrupted, which even includes a Showtime documentary called “Shut Up and Dribble” — so players could talk freely about the topics important to them.

“There was a time where athletes either felt they shouldn’t speak up on things or they didn’t feel the courage to speak about things that were going on,” he said. “... I do it because I’m passionate about it. I do it because I know that this is bigger than just me personally.”

And for Daryl Morey it isn’t? Why, because someone might feel uncomfortable or someone’s financial interests might be affected? Or, maybe worst of all, because LeBron assumed Morey didn’t know what he was talking about?

“I believe he was either misinformed or not really educated on the situation,” LeBron said.

And yes, there is another card that’s been played on LeBron and every other athlete through the years, which he’s now dishing out. Ingraham said as much about him back in 2018. Players can’t possibly be smart enough or informed enough on non-sports issues to weigh into the debate. It’s a discrediting technique designed to weaken words and compel order.

If Daryl Morey ever said that of LeBron James, LeBron James would justifiably fire back. Morey would probably be run out of the league.

Is Morey really even “misinformed” or “not really educated” on the Hong Kong protests? LeBron admitted, “I have no idea, but that is just my belief.”

He certainly didn’t offer a counterpoint — for example, arguing that, say, the new Chinese law that protesters are fighting against isn’t actually the threat to their civil liberties that they fear. Right or wrong, that would at least be something substantive.

No, LeBron just wants Morey quiet. Just like Laura Ingraham wants LeBron quiet.

This entire answer was a disaster. LeBron and his team of image consultants and public-relations professionals had 10 days to come up with a suitable response for this certain to be broached topic.

The NBA, at the behest of the Chinese government, shielded the players from the media while they were in China. That wasn’t going to last in America.

LeBron could have taken the path of other players and coaches and just dodged the question, noting that he doesn’t feel comfortable weighing in on the affairs of other countries.

It wouldn’t be much and it would play into the narrative that money was buying NBA silence, but it’s somewhat fair. If Donald Trump himself won’t speak up for the Hong Kong protesters, why should we expect basketball players to do it?

Instead, LeBron said uneducated Daryl Morey should essentially just shut up and run his team.

That's a sentiment that LeBron, of all people, should know is the wrong thing to express, whether it is coming from him or at him.

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