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A demonstrator stomps on Lebron James jerseys during a rally at the Southorn Playground in Hong Kong, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019. Protesters in Hong Kong have thrown basketballs at a photo of LeBron James and chanted their anger about comments the Los Angeles Lakers star made about free speech during a rally in support of NBA commissioner Adam Silver and Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, whose tweet in support of the Hong Kong protests touched off a firestorm of controversy in China. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

LeBron James’s stated opinion that Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey was “misinformed” when he posted a tweet supporting protesters in Hong Kong went over about as well in that city as his infamous 2010 “Decision” did in Cleveland.

A day after the Los Angeles Lakers star thrust himself into an NBA controversy of unprecedented international proportions, James became the subject of protests in Hong Kong. Scores of people gathered Tuesday at a basketball court to direct profanities at him, trample and burn his jersey and chant in support of Morey.

“James was trying to take a side, on the China side, which is, like, ridiculous,” Aaron Lee, a 36-year-old marketing director, said while attending the anti-James, pro-Morey demonstration (via The Associated Press). “He was being honest, financially. Simple as that.

“LeBron James stands for money. Period.”

Of Morey’s tweet — which was posted Oct. 4 and quickly deleted, and which read, “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.” — James said to reporters Monday that “so many people could have been harmed not only financially, but physically, emotionally, spiritually.”

Saying “we do have freedom of speech, but there can be a lot of negative that comes with that, too,” James added that Morey was “either misinformed or not really educated on the situation.”

The 34-year-old forward, who was in China with his Lakers for a pair of exhibition games while the firestorm raged over Morey’s tweet and the NBA’s response to it, subsequently posted to Twitter to “clear up the confusion.” He said he wasn’t “discussing the substance” of Morey’s tweet but rather addressing “the consequences and ramifications” of it.

“My team and this league just went through a difficult week,” James tweeted. “I think people need to understand what a tweet or statement can do to others. And I believe nobody stopped and considered what would happen. Could have waited a week to send it.”

Those statements on Twitter appeared to do little at the time to mollify James’s critics, many of whom painted him as a greedy hypocrite for having spoken out in the past on issues of social injustice in the United States but seeming now, as they saw it, to be kowtowing to China’s authoritarian regime.

In Hong Kong, a crowd alternated chants of “Thank you Morey” with “[expletive] off James.” A photo of James was affixed to a basketball hoop’s backboard, and people cheered as shot attempts bounced off it.

“It is so hurtful to us that [James], the face of the NBA, would speak up for freedom of speech in America while dismissing Hong Kong, when we are suffering every weekend,” said James Lo, a 30-year-old who wore a Lakers jersey to the demonstration. “I know it is about business. I know that China has 1.4 billion and we are just 7 million. But the NBA should be protecting their values, not their money.”

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver spoke of his league’s “values” in a statement last week, one that followed an initial NBA reaction to Morey’s tweet that drew criticism for being overly solicitous toward the anger emanating from China.

James said Monday that Morey’s tweet set up a “tough situation” for Silver, who was forced to try to “put out such a fire that he didn’t create and he didn’t start.”

On Tuesday, the four-time NBA MVP again spoke with reporters and addressed his comments, saying (via USA Today), “When the issue comes up and you feel passionate about it and you feel like it’s something you want to talk about, then so be it.”

“I also don’t think every issue should be everybody’s problem as well,” James added. “When things come up, there’s multiple things that we haven’t talked about that have happened in our own country that we don’t bring up.”

Asked if he saw video of Hong Kong protesters burning his jersey, James said that he had not and thus did not have a reaction to it.

“We are very angry,” Lo told the AP, showing video of a James jersey being burned. “Students, they come out every weekend. They’ve got tear gassed and then they got gun-shot, like, every weekend. Police beating students and then innocent people, like, every day.

“And then [James] just comes up with something [like] that. We just can’t accept that.”

The Washington Post’s Shibani Mahtani contributed to this report from Hong Kong.


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