Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James is ready to move on from the China controversy and focus on winning a championship and other things.
Just a day after criticizing Houston Rockets’ general manager Daryl Morey as “misinformed” over a tweet supporting Hong Kong protesters, James said Tuesday he has more pressing issues to deal with at home.
“I’d be cheating my teammates by continuing to harp on something that won’t benefit us trying to win a championship because that’s what we’re here for,” James told reporters Tuesday. “We’re not politicians. I think it’s a huge political thing but we are leaders and we can step up at times. But … you don’t feel like you should speak upon things you shouldn’t have to.”
James said he has a list of concerns in his own backyard that he should prioritize more than political issues a world away.
“There’s things that happen in my own community – trying to help my kids graduate high school and go off to college – what’s been my main concern over the last couple years – and my school. Trying to make sure the inner city kids that grew up in my hometown can have a brighter future and look at me as inspiration to get out of the hellhole of the inner city. And we don’t talk about those stories enough.”
James opened a school last year for at-risk third- and fourth-graders in his hometown of Akron, Ohio.
Hong Kong protesters have taken to the streets for months in increasingly violent pro-democracy demonstrations, with hostility and anti-China sentiment growing.
Hong Kong is part of China – but as a former British colony, it’s also a semi-autonomous city with its own language, currency, legal system, and freedoms of speech, press and assembly.
Protesters have expressed fears that those freedoms are getting slowly eroded, as China encroaches on the city’s autonomy. In recent weeks demonstrators have burned Chinese flags, spray painted “Hong Kong is not China” across the city, and even attacked Chinese owned-businesses.
In response, Beijing has taken a hard stance, with Chinese President Xi Jinping warning that any attempt to split China will “end in crushed bodies and shattered bones,” according to state media.
Many companies and brands have become caught in the crossfire. Those who sympathize with the protesters face Chinese fury and financial backlash while those who try to placate China draw accusations of cowardice from protest supporters in the United States and elsewhere. The NBA faced both of these last week as it tried to navigate the controversy.
“It’s a tough situation we’re all in right now with the association, us as athletes, GMs and owners and so forth,” James said. “When the issue comes up, if you feel passionate about it or you feel like it’s something that you want to talk about – then so be it. I also don’t think every issue should be everybody’s problem as well.”
LeBron James has long spoken out on social justice issues, but appeared to side with silence Monday when he criticized Morey over the latter’s tweet supporting Hong Kong protesters.
“I just think that when you’re misinformed or you’re not educated about something – and I’m just talking about the tweet itself – you never know the ramifications that can happen. We all see what that did – not only for our league but for all of us in America, for people in China as well,” he told reporters Monday.
When backlash ensued over his comment, James tried to clarify his position on Twitter and said he was “not discussing the substance” of the tweet.
Morey quickly apologized and deleted his original tweet, but the league’s Chinese partners suspended ties, state broadcaster CCTV halted all broadcasts of preseason matches, and the Chinese government said the NBA needed to show “mutual respect.”
The rift, and the NBA’s rapid attempts to salvage its massive Chinese market, have sparked broader questions about the influence of China on free speech in corporate America.
James described it as “a very delicate situation, a very sensitive situation” Monday.
CNN’s Jessie Yeung, Eric Levenson and Jordan Valinsky contributed to this report.