The Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets found themselves thrust into the middle of a global controversy last week as they played two exhibition games in China just days after Daryl Morey’s tweet supporting protestors in Hong Kong created backlash in one of the largest basketball-consuming markets in the world.
While there was speculation that the preseason tilts would be cancelled, the games went on despite a lack of media coverage by order of China.
What was undeniably a stressful and likely scary time for the players involved resulted in a meeting led by Lakers star LeBron James and attended by members of both teams as well as NBA commissioner Adam Silver.
At the meeting, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania, James made it clear that it was the league’s responsibility to properly respond to the crisis without expecting the players to be placed in positions where they would have to answer questions about a complicated topic. According to Charania, James’s teammate Kyle Kuzma and Nets star Kyrie Irving also spoke up at the meeting:
“Lakers star LeBron James spoke up in front of everyone in the room and stated he believed that Silver and the NBA needed to explain and articulate the situation first, before the players would have to, multiple sources with direct knowledge of the meeting told The Athletic. James expressed concern that without the league being able to speak to media to address all of the questions and dynamics about China and the NBA, it was unfair for solely players to bear that responsibility.”
“Those sources also said that James explained to everyone in the room that he felt it would be unfair for Lakers and Nets players to explain this international issue in Shanghai before the NBA did — for several reasons: Their safety in a foreign country in China, the challenges of having young players on both rosters being thrust into a position of having to speak publicly about such a complex and layered topic and the added complication that the U.S. is currently embroiled in a trade negotiation with China.”
““Why are we the ones to go through the risks of speaking out in China when the league should be the first to address the matter, with our voices to follow?” said one source with knowledge of the meeting and the players’ thinking in regard to James’ message.”
“They discussed making sure they felt safe and protected without thrusting themselves in unfair positions, sources said. Nets star guard Kyrie Irving and Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma joined James in speaking during the players-only meeting, sources said.”
According to Charania, the players held their own meeting after Silver left the room, as well.
NBA players have often been at the forefront of progressive conversations on domestic issues but this was a controversy which they could not speak freely about. Between the NBA’s crisis management, their safety in China, and their own business interests (especially for James, Irving and Kuzma).
James, of course, has been the most not able athlete, perhaps across all sports, to speak his mind on political and social issues. In this instance, however, he used his leadership skills and platform to protect his fellow players and hold the league accountable for finding the appropriate response.