After Backlash, LeBron James Says His Criticism of NBA Exec’s Pro-Hong Kong Tweet Wasn’t About ‘the Substance’

James weighed in on the NBA’s bad PR week Monday night

LeBron James
(Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for Sports Illustrated)

On Monday, LeBron James spoke publicly for the first time about an NBA executive who tweeted in support of Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters and caused a spike in tensions between China and the NBA, saying that Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey “wasn’t educated on the situation.”

But after an intense social media backlash, James said his comments were misunderstood and that he was “not discussing the substance” of Morey’s tweet.

On Oct. 4, Morey tweeted in support of the Hong Kong protests. In retaliation, the Chinese government canceled or postponed several NBA preseason events in China. The situation got worse after the NBA offered differing statements, tepidly defending Morey in English, and profusely apologizing in Chinese. Soon after, a bipartisan congressional group that included New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasia-Cortez and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz harshly criticized the league in a statement, saying in part that it is “outrageous that the NBA has caved to Chinese government demands for contrition.”

During an interview Monday after a preseason game, James said about the matter: “I don’t want to get into a feud with Daryl Morey, but I believe he wasn’t educated on the situation at hand.”

“Many people could have been harmed not only financially, physically, emotionally, spiritually,” James continued. “So just be careful what we tweet and say and we do, even though, yes, we do have freedom of speech, but there can be a lot of negative that comes with that, too.”

Within an hour of the comments going public, James issued a clarification that he wasn’t taking a position on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters, only on his belief that Morey didn’t have “consideration for the consequences and ramifications of the tweet.”

“Let me clear up the confusion. I do not believe there was any consideration for the consequences and ramifications of the tweet. I’m not discussing the substance. Others can talk about that,” James tweeted Monday night.

“My team and this league just went through a difficult week,” James continued. “I think people need to understand what a tweet or statement can do to others. And I believe nobody stopped and considered what would happen. Could have waited a week to send it.”

James’ comments were widely derided by fans and commentators, and his clarification didn’t quell the criticism. Some critics accused him of “licking the boot,” while others contrasted his comments with previous public statements on a range of hot-button political issues.

NBA player Enes Kanter also appeared to obliquely respond to James’ comments in several tweets Monday night. Kanter, who is Turkish, concluded with a description of personal difficulties he’s experienced since becoming a public critic of Turkey’s authoritarian president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

See other reactions below:

Representatives for James didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from TheWrap.