Protesters Come Out for Pro-Democracy NBA Exec Morey: ‘Hong Kong Lives Also Matter’

Protesters shout slogans as they hold flyers at the Southorn Playground in Hong Kong on October 15, 2019, during a rally in support of NBA basketball Rockets general manager Daryl Morey and against comments made by Lakers superstar LeBron James. - US basketball superstar LeBron James on October 14, 2019, …
ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP via Getty

Protesters in Hong Kong took to a basketball court in the Wanchai neighborhood Tuesday night to support Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, under fire for publishing a note of support to the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement, and protest pro-China basketball player LeBron James.

James claimed Morey was not sufficiently “educated” to understand the demands of the Hong Kong protesters and urged NBA employees in the future to take James’ personal financial state in a positive relationship with communist China into account when expressing themselves politically.

In response to James’ comments on Monday, members of the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement gathered Tuesday night at Wan Chai’s Southorn Playground wearing NBA jerseys, bringing some of James’ jerseys to burn, and chanting slogans thanking Daryl Morey. The protesters also celebrated Boston Celtics’ player Enes Kanter, who did not mention James by name but posted several messages on Twitter Monday appearing to challenge him, concluding with the phrase, “freedom is not free.”

Kanter has previously referred to James as a “princess.”

Kanter, a follower of Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, has been embroiled in a years-long battle with authoritarian Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that has culminated in his father’s imprisonment and several botched attempts by Turkish officials to arrest him. Erdogan has arrested thousands of people for supporting Gulen since the failed 2016 coup against him; Erdogan claims Gulen orchestrated the coup, though he has provided no evidence to support the claim and the elderly Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania, denies any involvement.

Between 100-200 people organized in Wan Chai for an impromptu basketball session against James, carrying a poster with their unofficial slogan, “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times.”

The man who coined the term, Edward Leung, is currently appealing a six-year prison sentence for “rioting,” the crime Hong Kong police typically accuse peaceful pro-democracy protesters of committing to get them off the street.

Speaking to the Associated Press, James Lo, one of the protesters, said that those in the pro-democracy movement facing police brutality on a daily basis for their call for, among other things, the right to elect their lawmakers, were “very angry” that someone as privileged and wealthy as LeBron James would take the side of the world’s most prolific human rights abuser, the Chinese state, over them.

“Hong Kong people are really suffering right now. Now you come off a speech like that, we are very angry. People start burning his jersey … just because of his speech,” Lo said. “Students, they come out like every weekend. They’ve got tear-gassed and then they got gun-shot, like every weekend. Police beating students and then innocent people, like every day. And then (James) just comes up with something (like) that. We just can’t accept that.”

Speaking at the event in Wan Chai, another protester urged NBA players to “remember … what you said before: ‘Black lives matter.’ Hong Kong lives also matter!”

Millions of people in Hong Kong have participated in protests against the Communist Party in the city since June, initially demanding their lawmakers withdraw a bill that would allow Beijing to extradite anyone present in Hong Kong for any reason, thereby making communist law applicable, illegally, on Hong Kong soil. Chief Executive Carrie Lam has since claimed she would urge the Legislative Council to withdraw the bill, but it has yet to officially do so.

The protesters have issued five demands, including the withdrawal of the extradition bill. The other four are the right to directly elect all lawmakers, freedom for political prisoners, and independent probe into police brutality, and an end to the government calling them rioters.

In exchange for their demands, Hong Kong police have violently assaulted them, including shooting live rounds at protesters. White-clad pro-China mobs have also taken the streets to attack unarmed protesters on behalf of Beijing.

LeBron James waded into this controversy on the side of the Communist Party Monday after arriving from a tour of China. The NBA entered the fray after Morey posted a tweet reading simply, “fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong.”

“Yes, we all do have freedom of speech, 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,” James said. “I don’t want to get into a word or sentence feud with Daryl, with Daryl Morey, but I believe he wasn’t educated on the situation at hand and he spoke. And so many people could have been harmed, not only financially but physically, emotionally, spiritually.”

He later added on Twitter that he was not addressing the “substance” of the Hong Kong protesters’ demands, but only that he had a personal stake in a friendly relationship with China and that Morey should have taken that into account when professing his pro-democratic values, which are at odds’ with James’.

James has deep financial ties to companies making millions in China, including Nike, with which he signed a lifetime contract. He also transferred to the Los Angeles Lakers as part of his intentions to make a claim in Hollywood, which now screens all movies for content that may be objectionable to the Communist Party.

China’s English-language state media, which last week was celebrating the September 11 attacks as a slight against Morey, have now gone largely silent on the NBA. On Monday, the Global Times propaganda outlet urged Chinese people not to blame NBA players for what Morey tweeted.

“The stars have done nothing wrong and they should not pay for the wrongs of their colleague or boss,” the government publication wrote.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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