Adam Silver defends LeBron James, other NBA players on China response: 'I'm very sympathetic'

It’s been a difficult month for the NBA and commissioner Adam Silver, who has been dealing with the never-ending fallout from the NBA’s China situation. Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey’s now-deleted tweet supporting democracy in Hong Kong has had far-reaching effects, with both the NBA’s bottom line and LeBron James’ image taking a hit.

James’ response to Morey’s tweet wasn’t well received, with him toeing the NBA line and calling it “misinformed,” and later clarifying that he was upset by the timing of Morey’s tweet. But in an appearance on ESPN’s “Get Up” on Monday morning, Silver defended James’ response, as well as the decision many players have made to stay silent on the issue. Via Bleacher Report:

"I think that these players, I mean, take LeBron who has an incredible track record of doing things that have changed people's lives in the United States to be asked to comment on a difficult foreign issue is, I think, again there's free expression and he should say how he feels. But, freedom of speech also means the freedom not to speak. And I've often said to players about issues here at home: If it's something you don't know about and you don't feel comfortable responding, that's OK as well. So, it's been no-win for a lot of those players, so I'm very sympathetic."

Silver’s right in that this is a no-win for the players. Those who stay quiet are criticized for doing so, and those who don’t are criticized for either toeing the NBA line or commenting on a complex international situation. Players have been thrust into the middle of a kerfuffle they didn’t ask for, one that has immense financial ramifications for the NBA and them by extension. James and other players had appearances canceled in China over Morey’s tweet, and lost out on endorsements geared toward the Chinese market.

Adam Silver defended LeBron James after he was criticized for his response to Daryl Morey's tweet about Hong Kong. (Photo by Takashi Aoyama/Getty Images)

Even though the regular season begins on Tuesday, the NBA-China controversy doesn’t seem like it’s going to die down anytime soon. Over the weekend, Chinese state television issued a warning to Silver that he could face “retribution” for defending Morey and defaming China. Last week, Silver revealed that China had demanded that Morey be fired, which Silver would not do. In fact, he said that Morey wouldn’t even be fined for his tweet.

"This has been a very difficult moment between the NBA and China," Silver said on ESPN. "My belief is ... we will get back on track. People need to step back. Everybody has made their points. There is no secret here about what's going on in China. ... Basketball diplomacy and engagement is positive. That's what we're turning back to."

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