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Golden State War­riors head coach Steve Kerr made con­tro­versial com­ments about China last week. | Wiki­media Commons

In Feb­ruary 2018, Laura Ingraham of Fox News found herself going head-to-head with NBA superstar LeBron James. After James crit­i­cized Pres­ident Donald Trump, Ingraham hit back at the Los Angeles Lakers’ forward during her show, and told him to “shut up and dribble.”

The ensuing backlash resulted in adu­lation and support being tossed in James’ direction while Ingraham was resound­ingly ridiculed. In March, former Lakers legend and Oscar-winning film­maker Kobe Bryant found time in his Academy Award accep­tance speech to take a swipe at Ingraham’s remarks. The entire NBA and sports world rallied behind James, who then released a docu-series titled “More than an Athlete” to promote himself as a champion of social justice.

No major pro­fes­sional sports league does more to enable and empower their players to speak on social and political issues than the National Bas­ketball Asso­ci­ation. While other leagues like the NFL struggled with con­tro­versies such as the anthem protests, the NBA smoothly nav­i­gated such pit­falls despite having some of the most loqua­cious super­stars in the world.

All that changed last week.

On Oct. 4, Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey tweeted out his support of the protests in Hong Kong. In reality, this was nothing new or unusual for the NBA. Players comment all the time on social issues via Twitter or the press: LeBron James once tweeted that Pres­ident Trump was a “bum” for dis­inviting the Golden State War­riors from the White House. James and other super­stars such as Kevin Durant and Steph Curry have also pub­licly sup­ported the Black Lives Matter movement and social justice war­riors such as Colin Kaepernick.

There was some­thing pro­foundly dif­ferent about Morey’s tweet, however. It exposed some­thing unset­tling about the NBA’s social justice crusade.

Rather than sparking a Twitter mob of ath­letes ral­lying in support of his cause, Morey’s dec­la­ration of support was met with crickets — until the NBA forced Morey to backpedal his remarks, which they said insulted Beijing.

Because, of course, what company would want to insult a cus­tomer that pro­vides a market of more than 500 million fans and a tele­vision deal worth $1.5 billion?

For the past two weeks, as teams such as the Lakers and Nets arrived for pro­mo­tional exhi­bition games in China, the NBA went out of its way to placate Beijing rather than echo Morey’s call for sol­i­darity with the Hong Kong protests. Even out­spoken super­stars such as LeBron James, Stephen Curry, James Harden, and Russell West­brook towed the company line by dodging ques­tions about the con­tro­versy.

Perhaps no moment of the debacle was more cringe-worthy than when Golden State War­riors head coach Steve Kerr’s response to a question about Chinese human rights vio­la­tions. A vocal critic of Pres­ident Trump on Twitter and in the press, Kerr could have easily chan­neled a fraction of that passion towards standing with the pro­testors.

Instead, Kerr engaged in shameless whataboutism and deflected to gun control: “Nor has our record of human rights abuses come up, either,” Kerr said. “Things that our country needs to look at and resolve… But people in China didn’t ask me about, you know, people owning AR-15s and mowing each other down in a mall.”
There is no denying that America has an issue with gun vio­lence. But to equate the evil acts of men­tally-dis­turbed indi­viduals with the world’s largest tyran­nical gov­ernment is idiocy in its most obvious form.

The Chinese gov­ernment has engaged in the sys­tematic sup­pression of free speech, forced abor­tions, and organ-har­vesting from live human beings. The NBA should also know that, while their super­stars like LeBron were warming up for an exhi­bition game in Shanghai, thou­sands of Uyghur Muslims were being rounded up by the Chinese gov­ernment and sent to con­cen­tration camps.

Which made it all the more frus­trating when James crit­i­cized Morey for expressing sol­i­darity with the people of Hong Kong: “We all do have freedom of speech, but at times there are ram­i­fi­ca­tions for the neg­ative… I don’t want to get into a word or sen­tence feud with Daryl Morey, but I believe he wasn’t edu­cated on the sit­u­ation at hand,” James lamented.

The truth of the matter is the NBA’s crusade for social justice ends at the Great Wall of China, where the temp­ta­tions of profit overcome any moral backbone the asso­ci­ation may possess.

If you need any more evi­dence that the NBA has com­pletely mis­handled this sit­u­ation, con­sider the fact that Senator Ted Cruz and Con­gress­woman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have co-signed a letter bashing the NBA for treating China with kid gloves. When the con­ser­v­ative Cruz and demo­c­ratic-socialist Ocasio-Cortez both agree that you are doing a ter­rible job, it is a safe bet that you have botched the sit­u­ation.

So how much does it take to make an athlete “shut up and dribble?” The answer is $1.5 billion and legions of adoring — albeit oppressed — fans.

Matt Fisher is a senior studying pol­itics and is a reporter for The Col­legian.