Trump and LeBron James’ astonishing cowardice


LEBRON James lost the respect of so many fans this week. I know, because I was one of them.

As he pondered his response to the public relations crisis gripping the NBA, James had to choose between his principles and his bank account.

It should not have been a hard choice. The guy is paid almost $40 million a year to chuck a ball through a hoop, and that's before we even consider all his businesses and endorsements. His finances are fine.

And yet, he chose money.

Way to go, LeBron Picture: Zhong Zhi/Getty Images
Way to go, LeBron Picture: Zhong Zhi/Getty Images

The crisis in question started two weeks ago when Daryl Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets, tweeted a message of support for the protesters in Hong Kong.

"Fight for freedom. Stand with Hong Kong," he said.

China didn't like that, and threw quite the tantrum. Chinese companies suspended their partnership with the NBA. State TV ditched its plans to broadcast pre-season games. We now know China even pressured the league to fire Mr Morey.

All that in response to one rather bland tweet from a person most people have never heard of.

This sort of pathetic insecurity is fairly typical of authoritarian regimes, and usually the best reaction would be to laugh it off.

But China is far more powerful than your garden variety tinpot dictatorship. The NBA's presence there is worth about $4 billion - a massive chunk of its global wealth.

So, for two weeks we have watched the league trying and miserably failing to appease China without abandoning its long-running commitment to freedom of speech.

Enter James, who has been an outspoken critic of Donald Trump in the United States, but couldn't marshall the will to say a single word against one of the world's most oppressive governments.

"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 this week.

"I don't want to get into a feud 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.

"So just be careful what we tweet, what we say and what we do. Yes, we do have freedom of speech, but there can be a lot of negative that comes with that too."

A lot of Mr Morey's critics have put forward the same laughable argument - that he "wasn't educated" enough on the situation in Hong Kong to offer an opinion. Brooklyn Nets owner Joe Tsai, for example, said Mr Morey was "not as well informed as he should have been".

Mr Tsai wrote a lengthy Facebook post on the matter, talking about a bunch of historical injustices China had faced, from the opium wars in the mid-19th century to the Qing dynasty's repeated humiliations, the Boxer Rebellion, the Eight Nations Alliance, and imperial Japan's invasion.

"I am going into all of this because a student of history will understand that the Chinese psyche has heavy baggage when it comes to any threat, foreign or domestic, to carve up Chinese territories."

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Of course, in this case, the supposed threat to China was a single tweet, posted by a guy who lives on the other side of the world and has no political influence whatsoever.

The truth is, you don't need to be able to write a dissertation on Chinese history to figure out that beating protesters in the streets is wrong.

You need no historical context to decide that freedom is better than oppression.

It takes basic common sense, and nothing else, to decide it's completely unreasonable for a global superpower to lose its mind over seven words.

If the scenes in Hong Kong were happening in Los Angeles instead, and the man responsible were Mr Trump and not Xi Jinping, LeBron James would not be silent. He would be the one tweeting. He could do so knowing the United States government would never dare threaten to kneecap the NBA's profits in retaliation.

The worst part of his reaction here was not the greed or even the straight up cowardice. It was his shameless attempt to twist that cowardice into some kind of virtue; to suggest that he was somehow morally superior.

Read back James' quotes. Mr Morey was "not thinking about others" and only thinking about himself. He "wasn't educated on the situation". It's like a parent lecturing a child. The arrogance drips from every word.

A few days after those comments, we learned James had pushed for Mr Morey to be punished during a meeting with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.

"To paraphrase, he told Silver that he knew that if a player caused the same type of uproar with something he said or tweeted, the player wouldn't be able to skate on it. There would be some type of repercussion. So, James wanted to know, what was Silver going to do about Morey's case?" ESPN reported.

"Silver pushed back, reminding the players that the league never doled out discipline when they publicly criticised President Donald Trump. Morey was exercising the same liberty when he challenged China. Regardless of the financial fallout of one versus the other, that's not what should matter."

The NBA has bungled this situation horribly, but give Mr Silver at least some credit for that answer. At least he's self-aware enough to recognise the hypocrisy here. James, meanwhile, is deluding himself.

Still a good baller though. Picture: Zhong Zhi/Getty Images
Still a good baller though. Picture: Zhong Zhi/Getty Images

And speaking of self-delusion, we also need to talk about Mr Trump, who has been busy screwing up his own (far more important) dealings overseas.

Yesterday Turkey agreed to halt its invasion of northern Syria for 120 hours, allowing the Kurds to withdraw from the area. Mr Trump hailed it as an "incredible outcome".

RELATED: Donald Trump's ceasefire deal slammed

"I just want to thank and congratulate President Erdogan. He's a friend of mine, and I'm glad we didn't have a problem, because frankly, he's a hell of a leader, and he's a tough man, he's a strong man and he did the right thing. And I really appreciate it," Mr Trump said.

"I want to thank Turkey. I want to thank all of the people that have gotten together and made this happen. This is an incredible outcome."

He confirmed the sanctions that had been levelled against Turkey as punishment for its incursion would be lifted.

"Obviously the sanctions and tariffs were going to be very biting. I'm glad we don't have to do it, we'll be taking them off very quickly, as soon as this is finalised," he said.

"But this is an incredible outcome. This outcome is something they've been trying to get for 10 years, everybody, and they couldn't get it. Other administrations, and they never would have been able to get it, unless you went somewhat unconventional. I guess I'm an unconventional person."

These quotes are indefensible. Just like James, but on a scale 100 times worse, the President was congratulating himself for his own cowardice.

The Kurds were America's most valuable allies in the war against Islamic State. They manned the front lines, losing more than 11,000 of their own people, while the US provided support.

When Mr Erdogan called Mr Trump and told him Turkey was going to launch an offensive against the Kurds, his response was to withdraw US forces from northern Syria, abandoning his allies to be slaughtered.

The desperate ceasefire Mr Trump's administration negotiated yesterday stopped that slaughter. It also gave Turkey everything it wanted.

It gets to annex part of a foreign country. It has successfully rid itself of the Kurds. And incredibly, the sanctions against it are being lifted immediately.

So Turkey has brazenly crossed a foreign border to attack an American ally, drawing furious international condemnation, and not only will it get to keep that territory, but it isn't even going to be punished, in any way.

I am really struggling to remember a more craven and submissive failure of American foreign policy.

And yet Mr Trump's response was to praise Mr Erdogan, the invader, for doing "the right thing". To say he "really appreciated" it.

His response was to brag about the outcome - to claim this abject humiliation, which included the displacement of 200,000 civilians and the murder of American allies, was something previous presidents had tried and failed to achieve.

Maybe not the best time to have a smug grin on your face. Picture: Adam Harnik/AP
Maybe not the best time to have a smug grin on your face. Picture: Adam Harnik/AP

One of the people I've talked about here is a basketball player. The other is a president. Obviously one situation is far more serious than the other.

But LeBron James and Donald Trump both need to learn the same lesson.

If you're going to be a coward, at least have the decency to show some shame.

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