LeBron James questioned NBA Commissioner Adam Silver in China last week about why Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey wasn't facing punishment for a tweet supportive of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong that damaged the league's relationship with China, according to ESPN.
James and his Los Angeles Lakers, as well as the Brooklyn Nets, were in Shanghai to play some preseason games. After Morey's tweet resulted in public appearances — and even endorsement deals — being canceled, Silver flew in to meet with players and discuss how they should respond publicly to the controversy.
ESPN's Dave McMenamin reported that after Silver made his case for the players to put up a "positive front" and be ambassadors for the NBA during potentially difficult media sessions in China, James raised a different issue: If a player cost the league this much money, James said, they'd be punished. Why not Morey?
Silver rejected James' premise by pointing out that when James and other players criticized President Donald Trump, the league allowed them the same free speech rights they grant to Morey. James then pivoted to complain about the fact that although Morey posted the tweet, and Silver runs the league, the players are the ones forced to deal with the fallout most directly (a fair point, by the way).
James told ESPN he was speaking for all the players, not just himself.
"It's always a responsibility with me as far as players, a protection for the players," James said. "That's always [on my mind]. I never speak for just me, things that just benefit me. I try to be educated as much as I can and speak from a pure heart of how can I protect not only me, but protect the players as well in that situation."
James and the players agreed that they did not want to deal with Chinese media in the midst of the controversy, and Silver agreed to let the forego media availability during the trip. Of course, when the teams got back to the United States, James made comments that revealed he had a clear reason to not want to speak on China — he was unwilling to speak out on an issue that could cost him money.
Now that angry Hong Kong protesters are burning LeBron James jerseys in the streets for his remarks about Morey's tweet, James is ready to focus on basketball, and said he won't be speaking on China again.
"I'd be cheating my teammates by continuing to harp on something that won't benefit us," James said. "We're trying to win a championship. That's what we're here for. We're not politicians. It's a huge political thing. But we are leaders and we can step up at times. I'm not saying at this particular time, but if you don't feel like you should speak on things, you shouldn't have to."