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Volume 26 No. 140
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LeBron's Social Justice Rep Takes Hit With China Comments

James' comments on Daryl Morey have been met with strong backlash from Hong Kong protesters
Photo: getty images
James' comments on Daryl Morey have been met with strong backlash from Hong Kong protesters
Photo: getty images
James' comments on Daryl Morey have been met with strong backlash from Hong Kong protesters
Photo: getty images

Reaction to LeBron James' comments on the ongoing NBA-China controversy continue to come in from all corners, with the WASHINGTON POST's Jerry Brewer writing James "ventured into territory so dangerous that he damaged his sterling reputation as an enlightened icon." James' decision to criticize the timing of Daryl Morey's tweet that started the whole incident "would have been fine if his tone hadn't been so callous" (WASHINGTON POST, 10/16). The AP's Tim Dahlberg writes James may have "abdicated his spot as someone who should be listened carefully to when it comes to social issues." James has "always prided himself on speaking out on issues ranging from Trayvon Martin to Colin Kaepernick." However, he "should have made sure in this instance that he was speaking out the strongest in support of free speech" (AP, 10/16). ESPN's Dave McMenamin noted James is "as savvy a player as we've seen," and when he speaks out about an issue, he usually "sounds eloquent, well though out, incisive." He "wasn't that" on Monday ("The Jump," ESPN, 10/15). ESPN's Israel Gutierrez said James is a "bigger spokesman for the NBA than Daryl Morey is, he's a bigger spokesman for sports than Adam Silver is." Gutierrez: "For him to come out sounding this way ... it's extremely disappointing" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 10/15).

DAMAGING HIS IMAGE: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Ben Cohen writes James "undercut the image that he has been so careful to cultivate and inadvertently thrust himself into the center of the firestorm." The "unexpected comments" came from someone who is "normally so meticulous in his rhetoric" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 10/16). The New Yorker's Evan Osnos said, "This was clearly not the thing that lived up to the image that he has carved out for himself and that people hold him to" ("CBS This Morning," 10/16). In Boston, Tara Sullivan: "He has to know how bad his position looks in relation to the social justice warrior he has positioned himself to be" (BOSTON GLOBE, 10/16). In Toronto, Bruce Arthur: "He blew it. ... This hurts his credibility on social issues going forward" (TORONTO STAR, 10/16). In Detroit, Shawn Windsor: "His words Monday night felt like a gut punch to so many who've admired his dedication to social justice. ... It's hard to imagine James being more tone deaf. Or hypocritical. Or, frankly, selfish himself" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 10/16). In Salt Lake City, Gordon Monson: "James has made himself look bad here, selfish and self-absorbed" (SALT LAKE TRIBUNE, 10/16).

NO DIFFERENT FROM JORDAN, TIGER? USA Today's Dan Wolken noted James over his career has "differentiated himself from other great athletes -- from Michael Jordan, from Tiger Woods -- because he's been willing to take a risk." Wolken: "It was very disappointing for LeBron of all people to say that Daryl Morey essentially inconvenienced me and for that he should be punished" ("OTL," ESPN, 10/15). In L.A., Bill Plaschke writes James has "long been considered above any of the barbs long directed at the likes of Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods, who were criticized during the height of their careers for remaining quiet on social issues to protect their economic interests" (L.A. TIMES, 10/16). USA TODAY's Christine Brennan: "We thought James was a different kind of athlete, more Ali than Jordan, more Billie Jean than Tiger. ... LeBron James is now a weakened messenger for whatever it is that he is going to be selling, be it products or politics. His significant voice has been diminished" (USA TODAY, 10/16). But ESPN's David Jacoby said, "It's almost unfair that we put this much pressure on one person, this much focus on what LeBron James is going to say" ("Jalen & Jacoby," ESPN2, 10/15).

FINANCIAL CONCERNS: THE ATHLETIC's Bill Oram noted James is "every bit as much a corporation as Apple, Calvin Klein and Marriott -- just a sampling of American brands that have backpedaled in recent months after offending the Chinese sensibility on Hong Kong." Oram: "To think he would respond differently than a conglomerate would be to underestimate the empire he has and, yes, its inherent dependence on China. ... Let's not mistake James for an altruist in this situation. LeBron is a businessman. That can't be said enough times" (THEATHLETIC.com, 10/15). However, ESPN's Tony Kornheiser said that James "seemed to stand up for ... China and business and profit that he personally is going to make" ("PTI," ESPN, 10/15). San Diego, Bryce Miller: "Intended or not, it gives the impression that James is more worried about his own footing and financial interests" (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 10/16). DEADSPIN's Ray Ratto: "James picked a side, and that side was rooted in self-interest" (DEADSPIN.com, 10/15). In Orlando, Mike Bianchi writes he used to respect James, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, Warriors coach Steve Kerr and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver "for being unafraid to stand up for what they believe in." Bianchi: "Now, sadly, we know that what they believe in is Chinese money over democratic freedom" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 10/16).

IN A STRANGE POSITION: In N.Y., Sopan Deb notes not since James made "The Decision" in '10 has he "faced widespread backlash" like he is facing now. James was "denounced immediately," marking an "unusual position for one of the most popular athletes in the world." The "breadth of the criticism was unusual," as one section of Reddit reserved for Lakers fans has "hundreds, if not thousands, of comments [that] offered scathing words for James" (N.Y. TIMES, 10/16). In Indianapolis, Gregg Doyel writes James is "nobody to root against, at least not in the grand scheme of things," but he has "embarrassed himself -- revealed himself -- with this China situation" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 10/16). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Jason Gay writes James "botched it," as his comments Monday were a "public relations brick for an athlete who's usually far more deft in high-profile situations." Gay: "With the opportunity to provide some leadership, clarity or context about the NBA's weird week in China ... James punted a hot topic into his own net" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 10/16).