Daryl Morey’s single tweet ignited a flame that burned into a raging fire. On October 4, the Rockets general manager shared 6 simple words with the world: “Fight for Freedom, Stand with Hong Kong.” The tweet, sent from the safety of American soil, stood up for democracy in a communist country.
Hong Kong protests have been going on for months now. Its people are on edge after the proposed legislation of the 2019 Hong Kong extradition bill, which entails extraditing criminal suspects back to China and subjecting them to a Chinese justice system. The United States provides its citizens with a right to a fair trial. Hong Kong is demanding democratic reform.
Conducting business in a country such as China, whose values and non-democracy diverge from our own, is difficult. America’s first amendment to the constitution prohibits abridging the freedom of speech or press. China’s outlook is one restricting those very United States establishments, an action that Morey’s tweet directly violated in Chinese outlook, and adhered to from an American perspective. Yet, he expressed his thoughts from a country that protects his rights. The situation would have been vastly different had he proposed radical reform while balling around China.
Many basketball icons have dunked into the issue. Shaquille O’Neal supported Morey on TNT Tuesday night, as the NBA tipped off the start of the season. O’Neal acknowledged the business we conduct with China, and the need to reciprocate and understand one another’s values. He argued that one of the best values we have in America is free speech.
When China’s government asked NBA commissioner Adam Silver to fire Morey, he defended the GM, apparently responding, “there’s no chance that’s happening,” despite the potential financial ramifications on commercial interests in China that may be impacted.
Some NBA figures have taken strides over the years, utilizing their status on the court as a platform to stand up for their beliefs—questioning the legal system in place, and the repercussions of the justice, or lack thereof, behind it.
LeBron James has stood up for various causes in the past—from gun control advocacy, to supporting Hillary Clinton’s campaign and wearing an “I Can’t Breathe,” shirt—an homage to Eric Garner’s final words before he died from a chokehold by an arresting police officer. He’s stood up for causes on the home front and recently shared a response to an issue overseas, this time, with a more abated approach.
James advised that although America does protect our freedom of speech, it comes with potential negative side effects. We must be careful when interacting and conducting business with countries that instill censorship, as opposed to freedom. Silver defended James, citing his track record of James’ involvement in social issues overtime and recognizing that freedom of speech also encompasses the freedom not to speak.
The NBA had a great handle on this situation—the commissioner stood up for a GM who practiced his freedom of speech, and also for those whose silence spoke volumes. The organization’s key values include integrity and teamwork. Silver supported his players and manager throughout the controversy, empowering his coherent team. Just as in journalism, the NBA conducts itself in accordance with the highest standards of ethics and honesty.
Athletes should continue to use their sport as a contrivance for social change. NBA stars and managers alike have the opportunity to step foot onto courts around the world, whose values may not parallel those we see reflected in the states. No, players aren’t obligated to support the rights of people around the world. But they have the power to serve as players for social change and inspire transformation.