LeBron James has long been a central figure in the sports world when it comes to activism and battling social injustice. As the face of the NBA, James recognizes that where he goes, others follow. He opened his own school to help underprivileged kids in his hometown of Akron and was at the head of the NBA's social activism for the last decade, most recently speaking out in chorus with hundreds of other athletes against the murder of George Floyd and police brutality in America.
James did receive criticism, however, for how he handled the Daryl Morey-China situation last October. If you need a refresher, Hong Kong was in the middle of fierce protesting in a battle for independence from China. Morey sent out a tweet in support of the protestors, which infuriated China, the NBA's biggest international partner. Matters were not helped by the fact that the NBA was in the country at the time playing preseason games. It led to a lot of money being taken out of the league's pockets after China refused to televise NBA games (and still aren't). When asked about it, James said he felt Morey didn't consider the ramifications of sending such a tweet fully, and said "others" can talk about the substance of the tweet itself.
His decision to not speak on the protestors' battle for democracy in Hong Kong coupled with his outspoken manner on other social justice issues have led some to label James a hypocrite. Joshua Wong, a noted Hong Kong activist who spoke before Congress on behalf of his fellow protestors, tweeted out that sentiment last night in regards to the news that James was founding a group to protect black voters' rights in America, named "More Than A Vote."
Wong is right that, in James' initial comments on Morey, he said the Rockets GM was uneducated on the situation. His full quote from ESPN:
""I believe he was either misinformed or not really educated on the situation, and if he was, then so be it," James said. "I have no idea, but that is just my belief. Because when you say things or do things, if you are doing it and you know the people that can be affected by it and the families and individuals and everyone that can be affected by it, sometimes things can be changed as well. And also social media is not always the proper way to go about things as well, but that's just my belief.""
James tweeted the following clarification after the fact:
It was surprising to see James shy away from this situation, even with the amount of money at stake for James and the league. Money isn't an excuse anyone should lean on to not fight for what's right, and the way the protestors in Hong Kong were being treated by police is very similar to what's been happening in the United States over the last two weeks. So similar, in fact, that American protestors borrowed several methods of avoiding tear gas from the Hong Kong protestors. James took the avenue that was best for himself and the league; if the biggest superstar of the 21st century had spoken out against China, the relationship would have been damaged irreparably. Calling the action hypocritical in light of his history of social activism is a fair criticism.
But the key to understanding this situation is the latter half of the quote James gave in October when he was asked about everything.
""I think when we talk about the political side, it was a very delicate situation, a very sensitive situation," James said. "And for me personally, you guys know that when I speak about something, I speak about something I'm very knowledgeable about, something I'm very passionate about. I feel like with this particular situation, it was something not only I was not informed enough about ... I just felt like it was something that not only myself or my teammates or my organization had enough information to even talk about it at that point in time, and we still feel the same way.""
James speaks passionately and knowledgeably about being a black man in America because he is a black man in America. He has lived racial profiling. He has lived what dozens of other athletes have spoken out about in the last few weeks, the fear black men feel when confronted by police, the terrifying thought that a simple traffic stop could result in the end of their life. He has no idea what it's like to live in Hong Kong and fight for democracy against an autocratic state unafraid to use violent means to quell peaceful uprisings -- so he chose not to speak.
Could James have educated himself on the matter and spoken out in support of the Hong Kong protestors? Absolutely. He can be rightfully criticized for choosing to go radio silent on the subject after the initial uproar; just because he hasn't gone through what the Hong Kong protestors have doesn't make it any less important to fight for what is right.
But nothing about this is simple. Just because James spoke out about this and not about that does not mean he's a fraud. It does not undo all of the great things he's done for millions of people across the country with his charitable acts. It does not mean he is not a man who will do everything in his power to fight for what is right, as the last 17 years have proven he is.
It means he made a mistake. Wong labels James a hypocrite, and nobody, including this blogger, can tell him he's wrong about that. But to say he doesn't care about human rights, hard stop, is simply untrue. One false step next to thousands of positive, impactful steps doesn't change that.