NBA Commissioner Adam Silver defended LeBron James and NBA players against criticisms they've faced in wake of the fallout from Daryl Morey's tweet in support of Hong Kong, calling it an "incredibly unfair situation."
"I think that these players, I mean, take LeBron who has an incredible track record of doing things that have changed people's lives in the United States to be asked to comment on a difficult foreign issue is, I think, again there's free expression and he should say how he feels," Silver said Monday on ESPN's Get Up! "But, freedom of speech also means the freedom not to speak. And I've often said to players about issues here at home: If it's something you don't know about and you don't feel comfortable responding, that's okay as well. So, it's been no-win for a lot of those players, so I'm very sympathetic."
James faced a maelstrom of criticism after he made comments that seemed critical of Morey, who came under fire in China after posting a tweet that supported pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong. At first blush, the Lakers star appeared to be angered by Morey's pro-democracy comments but later clarified that he was frustrated by the timing of the tweet putting him and other players in potential danger.
"I believe he was misinformed or not really educated on the situation," James at first told reporters. "If he was, so be it. I have no idea, but that’s my belief. When you say things or do things, you’re doing it and know the things that can be affected by it and the families and individuals that can be affected by it. Sometimes it can be changed as well. Sometimes social media is not a proper way to go about things as well. That’s just my belief."
James and Silver were at the center of a tense meeting between the commissioner and players on the Lakers and Nets who were in China for exhibition games this month. Dave McMenamin of ESPN reported James spoke for players who were concerned for their safety and wondered if the league was doing enough to protect them in the midst of an international incident they did not create.
The Rockets and NBA have lost numerous partnership deals since Morey's tweet, including networks refusing to broadcast NBA games. The NBA's handling of the situation has received criticism from both sides of the political aisle.
"China is trying to use its market power to silence free speech and criticism of its conduct. In response, the NBA chose its pocketbook over its principles—and our values. We should all be speaking out in support of those protesting for their rights," Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren tweeted earlier this month.
Silver has been publicly supportive of Morey's right to speak out on the civil rights issue and has said the Rockets general manager will receive no punishment despite pressure from the Chinese government. State-run television in China called for "retribution" on Silver for his support of Morey, who has not made a public comment since apologizing to those offended Oct. 6.
Silver said on Get Up! that he's hopeful that the NBA and China can move past the incident and remain partners moving forward.