While most NBA voices have put business priorities first while tiptoeing around the league’s China controversy, Shaquille O’Neal gave voice on Tuesday to what many critics of the league have been espousing.
Free speech and human rights are values worth defending.
Speaking on TNT’s pregame show for the NBA’s opening night, O’Neal broached the subject with candor while supporting Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey for his tweet supporting Hong Kong that launched the ordeal.
Shaq: ‘One of our best values ... is free speech’
"One of our best values here in America is free speech,” O’Neal said on TNT. “We're allowed to say what we want to say, and we’re allowed to speak out on injustices, and that's just how it goes. And if people don’t understand that, that’s something they have to deal with.”
O’Neal’s stance at odds with other NBA figures
It’s a stance that many fans expected to hear from the likes of LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Steve Kerr and Gregg Popovich. Instead, Curry and Kerr stood behind a plea of ignorance to avoid talking about the controversy. Popovich stuck to defending commissioner Adam Silver as he and the league withstood criticism for placing the league’s financial interests ahead of Morey’s freedom to express his views on the human rights issues in Hong Kong.
And James attacked Morey, calling his tweet “misinformed” while putting his massive financial stakes in China tied to his billion dollar Nike deal and the NBA first.
O’Neal’s TNT set-mate Charles Barkley defended James for protecting his business interests on Monday.
“I thought everybody was really unfair to LeBron,” Barkley said. “Everybody does business in China. Every American company does business in China. Why should LeBron not be able to protect his financial interests — and the NBA and Nike?”
O’Neal: ‘Daryl Morey was right’
But O’Neal didn’t hesitate to speak up for the value of freedom of expression and defended Morey for taking a stance.
“Daryl Morey was right,” O’Neal said. “Whenever you see something wrong going on anywhere in the world, you should have the right to say 'that's not right' and that's what he did.”
O’Neal’s words reflect what many NBA fans hoped and expected to hear from the league with a reputation as the most progressive and forward thinking in American sports.
Instead, league leaders consistently put business interests ahead of free speech and human rights concerns.
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