The ongoing spectacle of rich American athletes and powerful sports organizations spitting on the democratic capitalist system that made possible their free and privileged lives – all the while giving succor to the prison wardens who govern Communist China – has been nothing less than chilling to observe. One can hardly stop wondering: are these people as cold-heartedly craven as they sound, gladly accepting the big payouts they get from Beijing because a whole lot of Chinese people happen to love American basketball while caring nothing at all for the armies of Chinese workers of China the profits from whose underpaid labor enables Xi & co. to buy their loyalty? Or are these U.S. sports stars just plain ignorant, possessed of some vague notion that the Chinese system is pretty much the same as America’s, or that the differences between them are just cosmetic distinctions that only a racist would focus upon?
In the last couple of weeks, we’ve written about hoop heroes like Charles Barkley who’ve rushed to stand by China. Now it’s time to turn to LeBron James, who has played for the Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat, and L.A. Lakers, and is considered by many observers to be the greatest basketball player ever. In response to one of the very few good guys in this story – namely, Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, who’d dared to express his solidarity with the freedom fighters of Hong Kong – James sneered that Morey “wasn’t educated” on the topic and should have kept silent. By way of explaining his remark, James told reporters that comments like Morey’s could harm some people “not only financially but physically, emotionally and spiritually.” A curious angle indeed, given that all Morey had done was to stand shoulder to shoulder with people who, by standing up for their liberty against a brutal totalitarian system, were risking their very lives. What seemed to concern James was that bringing up the harsh monstrous reality of the Chinese system could hurt the feelings of his NBA confreres while they’re on their way to the bank to cash their checks from China. It’s hardly irrelevant here that LeBron himself has an exceedingly profitable lifetime endorsement deal with Nike, many of whose sneakers are manufactured in Chinese sweatshops by slave laborers, some of them children.
James even went on to complain, in one tweet, that Morey’s support for Hong Kong had caused the Lakers to have a “difficult week” during a recent China tour. Many of his Twitter followers pointed out that the demonstrators in Hong Kong and the Uighurs, a Muslim group over a million of whose members are at present religious prisoners in China, have also been having a “difficult week.” Indeed, ever since China went Communist seventy years ago this month, untold hundreds of millions of its people have led highly difficult lives, and tens of millions have been subjected, at the orders of Mao and his successors, to brutal and violent deaths for their deviations from official ideologies. James also had some choice words for those who cheer on the Hong Kong inhabitants’ fight for freedom of speech, and who have defended Morey by pointing to his freedom of speech: “Yes,” wrote James, “we do have freedom of speech, but there can be a lot of negative that comes with that too.” Let’s just close with that one — and try to imagine the mental operations that can lead an American to say such a thing in all seriousness.