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Bird Brown: NBA blew its chance to use a proper platform

Isn’t it funny how a simple tweet can rock the world of sports and politics and the intersection where they meet?

Last week, Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted a comment in support of the protestors in Hong Kong that went, “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.” The protests originate from a proposal by Hong Kong to allow extraditions to China, causing a fear that Beijing’s leaders would seek to tear apart the freedoms promised to Hong Kong when it returned to Chinese control 20 years ago.


Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.

Beijing’s leaders would seek to tear apart the freedoms.


Think about that for a moment.

Quickly, Morey had to delete his tweet due to the pressures from the Chinese government. The Chinese Basketball Association suspended its relationship with the Rockets, the most popular team in China due to its relationship with former player Yao Ming. Chinese state TV said it refused to show any more Rockets games. A shoe company and a bank card center suspended their relationship with the Rockets. And they’ve canceled the NBA G League games that were supposed to be held in China.

The Rockets responded quickly, separating the comments of one of the league’s top general managers with their own beliefs about politics and sports. Owner Tilman Fertitta ensured the world that they were “NOT a political organization. ... We’re here to play basketball and not to offend anybody.”

Other owners, most notably Nets owner Joe Tsai, coincidentally a co-founder of Chinese e-commerce company, Alibaba, took exception to Morey’s comments and questioned his motives behind them. Politicians on both sides weighed in and gave their positions, including those running for the highest office in 2020.

The players even decided it was their place to make comments, and many did. James Harden said, “We apologize. You know, we love China. We love playing there. For both of us individually, we go there once or twice a year. They show us the most important love.”

The “king” himself, LeBron James, even went so far as to say, “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.”

Thinking about yourself?

A tweet literally in support of the protestors in Hong Kong that has nothing to do with Morey “himself?”


When I think of the NBA, I think about their world reach that few others have been able to accomplish outside of the English Premier League and the soccer World Cup. The NFL has games in London every year. (Remember the Ravens falling to their knees just a few short years ago?)

Major League Baseball extends its fan base and its player base throughout Central and South America. But none of them have the international appeal that the NBA and its players enjoy.

The NBA and its players have a tremendous platform to use for social justice and in many ways they have been at the forefront of those battles leading the way toward equality and personal freedoms. They are quick to jump behind a cause they can call their own and promote its goals and ideals, but I really think they missed the boat on this one.

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But the thing that bothers me the most in all of this is not the fact that they are all quick to jump on an individual’s comments with whom they may disagree, but that they are failing to realize the power they have from their platform from which they can bring awareness and change.

If you don’t think someone is “woke” enough, if you think someone has not been educated on the cause that you claim to know more than they do, then use your platform to educate those that aren’t quite as “woke” as you may be.

Even Morey himself deleted his tweet so quickly as to minimize the financial damage that he would bring to his employer, the league, and all of the pampered millionaires who stood to lose a great deal from him standing his ground.


But now, the self-proclaimed “king” who was quick to push Morey in front of a moving train of controversy, now has become mum on the situation and wants to focus on the issues we have here at home, saying, “I won’t talk about it again.”

I applaud the work the NBA has done over the years in exposing and bringing needed change to social inequities. Just makes me wonder a bit; are every one of their stands against public injustice tied to the financial loss of their league and fellow players? If your public stand puts you in a position to lose the thing you love the most — your money and popularity — does it become less important than one that you stand behind yet have nothing to lose?

Cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead once wrote, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”

The league and the players of the NBA had the chance, and they blew it.