Chinese social media users praised LeBron James’ criticism of Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s tweet in support of pro-democracy Hong Kong protesters this week, even as his remarks drew near-universal criticism in the United States.
Hashtags supporting James, who said Morey was “misinformed” on the situation before he tweeted, were among the top trending topics on China’s Weibo platform. One such hashtag had garnered nearly 100 million views as of Tuesday afternoon, according to Variety.
“Very objective! To say such a comment in the US takes a lot of courage,” one user wrote regarding James’ comments.
The NBA’s top Chinese sponsors, including streaming partner Tencent Sports, suspended ties with the league earlier this month to protest its defense of Morey’s right to freedom of expression. Outrage among Chinese fans and officials is considered a major threat to the NBA’s business interests in China, which are said to be worth $4 billion.
James has significant business interests of his own in China, including a lifetime contract with Nike, which earns billions from the region, and a film production company currently prepping “Space Jam 2” for international release in the coming months.
“So many people could have been harmed, not only financially but physically, emotionally, spiritually,” James told reporters on Monday night. “So just be careful what we tweet and we say and what we do even though, yes, we do have freedom of speech. But there can be a lot of negative that comes with that, too.”
James later sought to clarify in his position, noting that he was “not discussing the substance” of Morey’s tweet, but rather its potential ramifications. Later, he told reporters he would no longer discuss the situation in Hong Kong.
Aside from widespread criticism from U.S. social media users, several politicians rebuked James over his remarks, including Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. In Hong Kong, protestors were seen burning James' jersey.
"I don't have a problem with [athletes speaking out on politics]. What I have a problem with is when they don't know what they're talking about and they end up defending tyrants,” Cruz told TMZ.