Basketball superstar LeBron James has weighed in on a row between the NBA and China, saying a team manager who caused uproar with a tweet about Hong Kong “wasn’t educated” on the situation.
In a now-deleted tweet, Houston Rockets’ Daryl Morey expressed support for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. He later apologised.
Mr James, the NBA’s best-known player, often speaks out on social issues.
His latest comments were praised in China but drew ire in the US.
During a pre-game interview in Los Angeles on Monday, Mr James told reporters he believed Mr Morey was “misinformed”.
“I don’t want to get into a word or sentence feud with Daryl Morey,” he said, “but I believe he wasn’t educated on the situation at hand and he spoke.”
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Mr James added: “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 only thinking about yourself.”
Mr James’ remarks sparked outrage from activists in Hong Kong, some US politicians and people on social media, with many users reposting one of his tweets from 2018 that quoted the civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
One Republican senator, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, accused the athlete of “parroting communist propaganda”.
In a clarifying tweet, Mr James said he was referring to the consequences of Mr Morey’s comment, rather than the substance.
Chinese officials and media responded with outrage to Mr Morey’s original tweet, which referred to months of pro-democracy protests that have consumed Hong Kong, a territory that is part of China but enjoys unique freedoms.
The NBA – which is hugely popular in China – has struggled to respond to the situation, with some Chinese partners suspending relations with the league by cancelling broadcasts and sponsorships.
Mr James has spoken out in the past on issues concerning race and police brutality and the NBA has been praised for accepting protest among its players.
Mr James has significant financial interests in China, through his lifetime endorsement deal with Nike and via millions of fans.