LeBron James Faces Backlash Unseen Since ‘The Decision’
It has been almost a decade since the last time LeBron James faced widespread backlash.
Fans in Cleveland burned his jersey. They threw rocks at a billboard with his face on it. James was maligned as a narcissist by Dan Gilbert, the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, in a letter that was widely mocked.
当时克利夫兰的球迷烧毁了他的球衣。他们朝印着他面孔的广告牌扔石头。克利夫兰骑士队(Cleveland Cavaliers)老板丹·吉尔伯特(Dan Gilbert)在一封信里诋毁詹姆斯是个自恋之人，这封信遭到了广泛的嘲笑。
And all James did then was announce on national television that he was going to a different team.
That was in 2010, when James, after seven seasons in Cleveland, said during a special on ESPN titled “The Decision” that he was taking his talents to Miami, to play for the Heat.
The backlash for that was far different from what James, now a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, faces after saying that Daryl Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets, “wasn’t educated on the situation at hand” when he posted and then deleted an image on Twitter supporting pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. It caused an international row with the authoritarian Chinese government, and now threatens the partnership between the N.B.A. and one of its most important international markets. Several Chinese companies cut ties with the Rockets.
当时激起的反应，和如今身为洛杉矶湖人队(Los Angeles Lakers)成员的詹姆斯所面临的远远不同。这一次，詹姆斯说休斯顿火箭队(Houston Rockets)的总经理达里尔·莫雷(Daryl Morey)在Twitter发图支持香港的民主抗议者，随后又删掉的时候，“对当前情况不够了解”。莫雷事件引发国际社会与威权主义中国政府的对抗，如今已经威胁到NBA与其最重要的国际市场之一之间的合作关系。几家中国公司切断了与火箭的联系。
James further incensed his critics when he added: “Yes, we do all 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 thinking about yourself.”
He was denounced immediately, particularly across social media. It was an unusual position for one of the most popular athletes in the world. Multiple lawmakers, including Rick Scott and Josh Hawley — two Republican senators — criticized James for seemingly blaming Morey for the Chinese government’s actions. Even a fellow player, Enes Kanter, a center for the Boston Celtics known to be politically outspoken, posted tweets that appeared to be directed toward James without naming him. One said: “FREEDOM IS NOT FREE.”
他立即遭到谴责，尤其是在社交媒体上。对于世界上最受欢迎的运动员之一来说，这种情况颇不寻常。包括共和党参议员里克·斯科特(Rick Scott)和乔什·霍利(Josh Hawley)在内的多名议员批评詹姆斯，说他似乎把中国政府的行动怪在了莫雷头上。甚至连另一位篮球运动员、波士顿凯尔特人队(Boston Celtics)的中锋埃尼斯·坎特(Enes Kanter)也在Twitter上发了一些似乎是针对詹姆斯的帖子，但没有提到他的名字。其中一条说：“自由不是免费的。”
James, one of the greatest players in N.B.A. history, tried to clarify his comments with posts on Twitter, saying that Morey did not consider the “ramifications of the tweet” and that “my team and this league just went through a difficult week.”
It didn’t help.
In Hong Kong, protesters burned James jerseys, shot baskets at a hoop with his face on the backboard, and turned images of him into memes — including a depiction showing him embracing Chinese cash.
The breadth of the criticism was unusual. On a section of Reddit for Lakers fans, hundreds, if not thousands, of comments offered scathing words for James. One post read, “Regardless of what Lebron’s real intention behind his words on Morey, he definitely messed up.” Several accused James of cowardice.
Speaking at practice on Tuesday, James said he was aware of some negative reaction toward him but did not feel a need to connect with every global geopolitical issue.
“I think when the issue comes up, if you feel passionate about it or you feel like it’s something you want to talk about, then so be it,” James said. “I also don’t think that every issue should be everybody’s problem.”
The scope of the backlash, compared with “The Decision,” is different for several reasons. One issue holds global importance, and involves a nexus of politics, sports and business. The other played out mostly among basketball fans, though it changed the way that star N.B.A. athletes viewed their own leverage in free agency.
Nine years after “The Decision,” there are other cultural forces at play: Social media use is much more ubiquitous. And more than that, James is different, in part because of that backlash from nine years ago. He’s a more powerful athlete, a global superstar with three N.B.A. championships and a settled legacy. His business empire has expanded past basketball and into entertainment, with his name helming dozens of television and film projects. James went from a great player to a business titan, who made activism on certain social issues a part of his empire. All of that has combined to build him into a figure with arguably unparalleled influence in the history of the league.
But in some ways, James’s history with activism has been as enigmatic as it has been common. Fans who accused James of cowardice also charged him with hypocrisy. James has carefully cultivated an image of willingness to engage with political issues throughout his career, including stands on police shootings and a high-profile endorsement for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2016. Last month, Gov. Gavin Newsom, Democrat of California, appeared on James’s HBO show, “The Shop,” to sign a bill that would allow athletes to seek endorsements and other deals, another bit of careful brand cultivation for James.
然而在某种程度上，詹姆斯在行动主义方面的事迹虽然常见，却又不清不楚。指责詹姆斯懦弱的球迷还指责他虚伪。在整个职业生涯中，詹姆斯一直谨慎塑造着愿意参与政治议题的形象，包括在警察枪击事件上的表态，以及2016年对希拉里·克林顿(Hillary Clinton)竞选总统的高调背书。上个月，加州州长、民主党人加文·纽森(Gavin Newsom)在詹姆斯的HBO节目《理发店》(The Shop)上签署了一项将允许运动员寻求赞助和其他交易的法案，这是詹姆斯的另一个精心的品牌培育项目。
On the premiere of “The Shop” in 2018, James didn’t eschew a comparison to one of his idols, the boxer Muhammad Ali, a famed social justice crusader. In fact, James suggested he didn’t care about backlash and that his popularity had declined when he started speaking out on various issues.
“He knew that it wasn’t about him,” James said, referring to Ali, adding that Ali knew that he would receive backlash and might go to jail.
James has previously been criticized for initially keeping silent about certain issues, such the 2014 shooting in Ohio of a 12-year-old African-American boy, Tamir Rice, by police.
Early in his career, James received blowback for declining to sign a letter circulated by his teammate Ira Newble criticizing the Chinese government for its support of the Sudanese government in relation to the armed conflict in Darfur, in which hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed.
But the next year, in 2008, James spoke out about Darfur on ESPN: “At the end of the day we’re talking about human rights. And people should understand that human rights and people’s lives are in jeopardy. We’re not talking about contracts here. We’re not talking about money. We’re talking about people’s lives being lost and that means a lot more to me than some money or a contract.”
And yet, the potential harm to James’s business interests caused by Morey’s Twitter post cannot reasonably be separated from his criticism of the general manager. He said he had been to China more than a dozen times in his career — usually with the league or one of his corporate sponsors like Nike, which counts China as its third largest market.
James also has more to lose in China than just sales from shoes or other basketball-related merchandise: His entertainment projects, like “Space Jam 2,” may be distributed in China, a significant market for Hollywood production studios like Warner Bros. and similarly for James’s brand itself.
詹姆斯在中国损失的不仅仅是鞋类或其他篮球相关商品的销量：他的《空中大灌篮2》(Space Jam 2)等娱乐项目可能会在中国发行，这里对华纳兄弟(Warner Bros.)等好莱坞制作公司是一片重要市场，对詹姆斯的品牌本身同样如此。
However, James may have helped the N.B.A. On the Chinese mainland, his comments have been met with enthusiasm. That the most famous basketball player in the world has, by some interpretations, lent support to the Chinese government’s position over that of an American basketball executive will not hurt in maintaining relationships — and profits — for basketballers in China.
After all, the Chinese buy sneakers, too.