HYDE: On China issue, LeBron James chooses his wallet over Hong Kong's freedom

The (South Florida) Sun Sentinel (TNS)
Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James sits on the bench during the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game against the Golden State Warriors, Monday, Oct. 14, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

We get the heroes we deserve.

They reflect the causes we value.

So Michael Jordan has stood all these years firmly and boldly with Nike’s profits.

Tiger Woods’ big social cause became his social life.

Now it’s LeBron James taking a resolute stand in a way that must make a previous sports generation groan. He chose money over freedom. He said it’s fine to call out a free U.S. society, but not a repressive Chinese government.

He did the corporate side-step as fluidly as a basketball Euro-step in the manner every NBA player and American corporation to keep Chinese money flowing.

LeBron said Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey recent tweet to, “Fight for freedom, stand for Hong Kong,” was either "misinformed or “not educated on the situation.”

“We all talk about this freedom of speech, yes, we all do have freedom of speech,’’ James said. “But at times, there are ramifications for the negative that can happen when you’re not thinking about others and you’re only thinking about yourself.”

Waiting game: This issue, as LeBron framed it, wasn’t about freedom, repressive China or a protesting Hong Kong. It was about a so-selfish tweet that Morey could have “waited a week” to send, he said.

Why wait? Because in a week NBA teams would have finished shuffling preseason games through China. The league and its players could have secured their money stream without facing pesky questions about side issues of freedom and government protests.

Why doesn’t LeBron just say what the NBA really means?

“Don’t talk human rights. China only means money to me.”

Demonstrators watch as a Lebron James jersey burns during a rally at the Southorn Playground in Hong Kong, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019. Protesters in Hong Kong have thrown basketballs at a photo of LeBron James and chanted their anger about comments the Los Angeles Lakers star made about free speech during a rally in support of the NBA and Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, whose tweet in support of the Hong Kong protests touched off a firestorm of controversy in China. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

Not surprisingly, James' comments led to a much-justified, social-media backlash. In addition, the protesters in Hong Kong felt betrayed by James and vented their anger by stomping on and burning his jersey. 

We shouldn't be surprised by James' comments. This is what our times value, what our heroes reflect.

Wasn't always this way: It wasn’t always so. Once upon a time a sports generation offered different values. Jim Brown spoke out. Billie Jean King opened minds. Muhammad Ali put his career on the line by refusing to go to Vietnam.

Arthur Ashe, soft-spoken and intellectual, became the center of an international storm by simply applying to play a tennis match in apartheid South Africa. Many whites, obviously, didn’t want him there. Many blacks asked if he’d validate a racist government.

Ashe, who had just won the 1968 U.S. Open, was confronting apartheid. He was denied a visa by South Africa. That caused the South Africa to be kicked out of international tennis. That’s the fight he wanted.

In 1973, in a changing world he was helping create, Ashe played in South Africa’s national tennis center just to show a white world a black man could win there. And he did.

“True heroism,’’ he once said, “is remarkably sober. It’s very undramatic.”

A simple statement. A common-sense thought. That’s how Ashe defined heroism. And it’s not that we’ve lost those voices along the way.

James has spoken out on other issues: LeBron, to be sure, has found his voice in recent years and used it well to promote causes.

He has questioned President Trump regarding their divergent beliefs on race and social issues. He stood last month with a California politician pushing for college athletes to get paid.

He aligned himself with historical activism by re-tweeting a Martin Luther King line that, “Our Lives Begin To End The Day We Become Silent About Things That Matter.”

Goes silent on China: He went silent on China when it threatened his bank account. He isn’t alone. Every voice in the NBA has gone mum. Golden State coach Steve Kerr, one of the most eloquent on social issues, was asked about China’s repressive society and quickly turned the subject to American gun violence.

San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich, another voice of good reason, went to the old stand-by of attacking Trump rather than involve himself in the sticky China situation.

After talking about Morey’s tweet, LeBron subsequently went to Twitter to, “clear up the confusion.”

He wrote: "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.”

What’s to clear up? China, he said without saying, isn’t about human rights or a repressive government to him. It’s about the more important idea of money. Everyone gets that.