LeBron James' rejection of a NBA executives' support for Hong Kong protesters is a function of his business interests with China, according to Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., who says too many in the NBA kowtow to China.
"China's government may be red, but its money is green — and plenty of people are willing to cash its checks, no matter the cost," Cotton said in a speech on the Senate floor Wednesday. "The league's biggest star, LeBron James, said that [Daryl] Morey's support for Hong Kong was 'misinformed' and 'not educated.' He reportedly called for Morey to be punished. Perhaps it's no coincidence that LeBron stands to make billions of dollars from the Chinese market — not only from a higher salary cap, shoe sales, and Nike ads, but also from his movie company.
"Often known as King James, perhaps Chairman LeBron would be a better honorific today."
Cotton argued the NBA does not have to "kowtow" to China like other business do, because it is a one of a kind operation China cannot do without.
"American companies kowtow to China not because they love its government but because of the tremendous pressure that government can exert on their operations," Cotton said. "But the NBA is in a unique position.
"Beijing can ban an airline or it can ban a hotel that lists Taiwan as a country in its online dropdown menu — and the Chinese people can use a different airline or hotel. But there's only one NBA. Beijing can't create another one.
"And here's the rub: There are more than 500 million basketball fans in China. More people in China follow the NBA than there are people in the United States.
"So no doubt Beijing has some leverage over the NBA, as it does over all businesses — but the NBA has a lot of leverage over Beijing."
Cotton dared the NBA to exert its leverage on China.
"So instead of acting as a bullhorn for communist propaganda in America, the NBA could be a beacon of freedom to China," he continued. "It could dare China to shut them out.
"So let me urge all the NBA executives and athletes who claim to care about 'social justice': Don’t just speak out when the stakes are low for you personally, or when the cause is popular among your friends. Speak out now, when the stakes are deadly high for millions of Hong Kongers and more than a billion Chinese — including many of your fans.
"LeBron James, you tweeted not long ago that 'Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.' Live out that principle consistently. There are a million Uighurs in concentration camps yearning to hear a champion who speaks out on their behalf — particularly because the NBA runs an elite training facility in proximity to those camps."
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