BIPP: LeBron kowtows to the CCP

John Angileri, BIPP Intern

Most of the few NBA players, coaches and officials who have said anything about the league’s issues with China (namely Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s tweet about Hong Kong and subsequent fallout) have been careful not to say anything that might harm the league’s or their own individual business interests in the country. The NBA lives in fear that, by expressing anything remotely in support of the protesters in Hong Kong currently risking their lives to challenge the Chinese government’s repression, they may anger the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and lose all access to the lucrative Chinese market. This (non-)response — especially from a league which has historically been eager to speak out on social and political issues — has been a shocking display of hypocrisy.

LeBron James is not only the league’s best player, but he is also a major cultural and thought leader. He has been outspoken on issues of police brutality and other racial injustices, and harshly critical of a number of U.S. President Donald Trump’s policies in the past. Thus, it was particularly surprising for James to note that Morey “wasn’t educated” in his support for Hong Kong protestors and that he could have “waited a week” until the league’s preseason tour in China was over to take action and speak out.

Over a year ago — before a Beijing-backed extradition bill sent over half of Hong Kong’s 7.4 million residents flooding into the streets to protest, and way before the NBA ever got involved — James tweeted an excerpt from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” which read: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” King’s famous open letter, written in 1963, was directed towards eight fellow southern Christian clergymen, all of whom were white. These were “men of genuine good will,” in the words of King; they agreed with King’s movement in its goal of civil rights for all. But they rejected the methods of those who marched peacefully in Birmingham, finding their efforts “unwise and untimely” because of the civil unrest that they seemed to evoke in segregationist strongholds. James’s statements against Morey last week sounded more like those eight clergymen than King, or someone serious about standing up for freedom and equality regardless of consequence.

If James were to re-read King’s letter, he would be reminded of his conception of “unjust laws.” As King describes, any man-made rule or statute that is out of harmony with the moral law — or the law of God — is unjust. Its existence calls righteous leaders into action. Surely James would realize that the incarceration of Uyghur Muslims in “re-education” camps, forced abortions, social credit scores, censorship of speech and the beating and killing of Hong Kong protesters are deserving of that distinction.

Hopefully, James would also realize, as King did, that there is nothing “inevitable” about progress. There is nothing about the advancement of time that necessitates that the system of repression in China will be lifted. That result is contingent on action: those who have the power to make a change for good choose to do so. Even with these missteps, James — beloved on the Chinese mainland — has before him a golden opportunity to speak out against the CCP and disrupt their system of suffocating social control. In the mind of a mainlander convinced of the goodness of the CCP, James could plant a seed of doubt. For the spirits of a Hong Kong protestor, James might provide hope.

I really hope James will choose to re-examine his role in the rich tradition of American activism that he undoubtedly has already made a great contribution to, and in doing so, realize the need to change his stance on China.

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