The NBA is in desperate damage control mode after an innocuous tweet from Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey voicing support for ongoing protests in Hong Kong triggered a fierce response from the Chinese government. Interestingly enough, though, the wokest league in professional sports--whose members have been blasting the American government and President Trump for years--are suddenly very concerned about not offending potential customers.
After being so vocal about social justice for so long, now, it seems, they don't have much to say. Now, two years after FOX News host Laura Ingraham famously admonished LeBron James and other NBA stars to "shut up and dribble," they're heeding her advice.
When she uttered that infamous phrase in February of 2018, James in particular was furious and said that under no circumstances would he stop talking about social issues.
"We will definitely not shut up and dribble," he said. "I mean too much to society, I mean too much to the youth, I mean too much to so many kids who feel like they don't have a way out and need someone to lead them out of the situation they're in."
Not kids in Hong Kong, though. LeBron doesn't feel like he means too much to them, apparently, because he has thus far refused to utter a single word about the issue.
Five years ago, NBA commissioner Adam Silver took a bold stand on the issue of LGBT rights when he pulled the league's All-Star Game out of Charlotte after the North Carolina State Legislature passed a bill that required people to use the bathroom of their gender at birth.
"We as the league want to make sure that there is an environment where the LGBT community feel protected down in North Carolina," he said at the time, and his pressure campaign worked. The threat of boycotts from the NBA and other major corporations forced North Carolina's government to pull the bathroom bill.
"It was unanimous among our owners that we stand united against any form of discrimination toward any group in our society," Silver bragged.
Now? He's in Shanghai groveling for the forgiveness of the Chinese government, and all he wants his league to do is to shut up and dribble so they don't anger it anymore.
One of the most politically outspoken NBA figures, San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, seems to have heeded this advice, as he has said nothing about China or Hong Kong or anything even remotely close to this controversy.
On President Trump, though, he hasn't been able to stop talking for nearly three full years--calling Trump everything from "a soulless coward" to "xenophobic, homophobic, racist, and misogynistic" to "a pathological liar [who is] unfit intellectually, emotionally, and psychologically to hold this office and the whole world knows it."
"Our country’s an embarrassment to the world," he said in a screed about Trump's opposition to NFL players kneeling for the National Anthem. "This is an individual who actually thought that when people held arms during the game, that they were doing it to honor the flag. That’s delusional. Absolutely delusional. But it’s what we have to live with.
"So we have a choice. We can continue to bounce our heads off the wall with his conduct, or we can decide that the institutions of our country are more important, that people are more important, that the decent America that we all thought we had and want is more important, and get down to business at a grassroots level and do what we have to do."
This grassroots activism, of course, is precisely what demonstrators in Hong Kong have been doing for months but, strangely, Popovich is silent about it.
No coach, however, has been more politically outspoken than the Golden State Warriors' Steve Kerr. He has been so vocal that The Guardian published a laudatory profile casting him as a social justice crusader "who has transformed from a master of unselfish offenses to an essential voice of reason in a world in which reason dies on cable news.
"No topic seems off limits. No question is too dangerous. Kerr stands out in a world where most sports coaches stay silent, either terrified of upsetting sponsors or fearful of upsetting team owners whose politics do not align with social change."
He was a hero when he was blasting President Trump for disinviting athletes who said they didn't want to visit his White House.
"The president is turning all of this into a political game and a ratings game, and it's a blatant display of nationalism," Kerr said last year. "But patriotism is helping your fellow citizen. Whether it’s what [Kevin Durant] is doing or what we did when we visited Washington and what the [WNBA champion Minnesota] Lynx are doing today, that’s what patriotism is about."
Kerr was similarly outspoken about the NFL's National Anthem policy, which The Guardian noted.
"Today’s NBA has a fearlessness about social justice that petrifies the NFL," wrote reporter Les Carpenter. "While football owners are bullied by Trump, anguished about the potential of upsetting their fans or frightening away advertisers, basketball players don’t seem shackled. This is especially true of Kerr and the Warriors."
"I think it's just typical of the NFL playing to their fan base and they're just basically trying to use the Anthem as fake patriotism, nationalism, scaring people," Kerr told reporters last year. "It's idiotic, but that's how the NFL has handled their business, and I'm proud to be in a league that understands patriotism in America is about free speech, about peacefully protesting."
Unless, of course, those people are peacefully protesting in Hong Kong. Then Kerr absolutely refuses to speak out; the "essential voice of reason in a world in which reason dies on cable news" suddenly silent. A reporter asked him directly if he had any comment on the issue and Kerr answered bluntly.
"Actually I don't," he said. "It's a real bizarre international story and a lot of us don't know what to make of it and it's something that I'm reading about just like everyone is, but I'm not going to comment."
But isn't that tough for him, asked the reporter, trying to get this most golden of Golden State's social justice warriors to weigh in on social injustice in Hong Kong.
"No, I mean, actually what I've found is that it's easy to speak on issues that I'm passionate about and feel that I'm well-versed on and I've found that it makes the most sense to stick to topics that fall in that category, so I try to keep my comments to those things," he said. "It's more that I'm just trying to learn. My brother-in-law actually is a Chinese history professor and I emailed him today and asked him what I should be learning so I'm trying to learn just like everyone else."
In other words, he's self-censoring...just like the rest of his league, which is bowing to the pressure of billions of dollars of Chinese investment that might be jeopardized if anyone dares to stand up for what's right. Of course, they will when it's easy, when they will be praised in the press and hailed as heroes by their liberal friends. When standing up and speaking out is difficult and might hurt their bottom line, they sit down and are silent.
As Les Carpenter put it in his puff piece in The Guardian, "[T]he culture they were trying to create around the Warriors emphasized freedom and self-expression. The last thing they wanted to do was put restrictions on speech."
Except when that speech might get them into trouble, when that speech is in fact most valuable and most needed.
Hong Kong has thus exposed the utter hypocrisy and cowardice of not just the Golden State Warriors, but an entire league of Social Justice Warriors who are showing the world that when they can really go out on a limb and really affect social change, all they want to do is shut up and dribble.