Guy Farmer: The NBA and free speech

Let’s hear it for Daryl Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets, who tweeted his support for millions of Hong Kong residents who are demonstrating in favor of democracy and free speech. Morey’s seven-word tweet, “Fight for freedom. Stand with Hong Kong,” ignited a political firestorm with several coaches and players siding with China, a totalitarian state that suppresses democracy and free speech.

The National Basketball Association issued a pathetic statement in English and Mandarin apologizing for “deeply offending many of our friends and fans in China.” Superstar LeBron James, a high school graduate not known for his knowledge of foreign affairs, said Morey must have been “misinformed” or “not fully educated on the situation.” Politically liberal NBA coaches Steve Kerr and Greg Popovich took advantage of Morey’s pro-democracy tweet to criticize President Trump for being “divisive,” which he is. As a result, the conservative Washington Examiner called Kerr and Popovich “useful idiots.”

At this point we should note that China is a lucrative market for James and his fellow millionaires, who make boatloads of money by selling overpriced jerseys and tennis shoes to Chinese basketball fans. Respected sports journalist Jason Whitlock, a political conservative, asked this question: “Is Nike the reason the NBA is kowtowing to the Chinese government?” Answering his own question, he wrote that “Nike is in control of basketball — the NBA, college basketball and high school. Nike is... driving this thing with China.” “Nike is a $40 billion business (and) the NBA is an $8 billion business,” he continued. “This thing is very simple. This is about money,” and to hell with democracy and free speech.

Alex Prewitt of Sports Illustrated commented on the dispute by writing that “the NBA must weigh the cost of playing ball with authoritarian China for a piece of its grand market,” estimated at $500 million. As a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said, “The NBA has been in cooperation with China for many years. It knows clearly in its heart what to say and what to do.” “That begins with apologies and self-censorship,” Prewitt added. How sad.

I liked a comment by young millennial Katherine Timpf of National Review. “To me, only one explanation (of the dispute) makes sense. Morey places a higher value on freedom and democracy than he does on sponsorships and cash — something that James could learn a thing or two about. Let me be clear: LeBron James’ comments sounded like those of a straight-up Chinese government plant.”

Retired superstar Shaquille O’Neal, who has business interests in China, agreed with Timpf. “One of our best values here in America is free speech,” he said, “and we’re allowed to say what we want to say...” Good for Shaq.

Of course some “progressives” saw an opportunity to inject famous “social justice warrior” Colin “Kap” Kaepernick, a former University of Nevada quarterback, into the discussion. After all, Kap is a spokesman — or spokesperson — for Nike, which controls the sports universe, according to Whitlock. Kap’s most recent social justice crusade was to denounce Nike’s proposed Betsy Ross flag sneaker. God forbid that someone who kneels for our National Anthem and champions Black Lives Matter should endorse a patriotic sneaker.

Meanwhile, Kap is laughing all the way to the bank as some misguided sports columnists continue to advocate his return to the National Football League. But why would any sane NFL team owner hire an angry athlete who is certain to be a cancer in the locker room? Go figure!

Bottom line: The NBA sold out to China. Deal with it.

Guy W. Farmer, the Appeal’s senior political columnist, is a lifelong sports fan. Go Huskies!


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