It’s Complicated: LeBron James, Enes Kanter, and China

In Enes Kanter’s eyes, LeBron James lost twice Friday night, once as a Laker and once as a man.

Los Angeles fell flat in the King’s big return from an abdominal injury, losing to the Celtics 130-108, but the Lakers’ lethargic effort was just one of two stories playing out at TD Garden.

James and Kanter did not speak on the court, but both players had plenty to say off the hardwood.

“Money over Morals for the “King,” Kanter tweeted above a picture of one-of-a-kind sneakers depicting James and China that Kanter wore for the game. “Sad & disgusting how these athletes pretend they care about social justice. They really do “shut up & dribble” when Big Boss says so Did you educate yourself about the slave labor that made your shoes or is that not part of your research?”

James was a visible and outspoken supporter of the “Black Lives Matter” movement in the summer of 2020 when protests and marches took place across the United States in the wake of George Floyd’s killing.

Though the four-time champion has been mum on the human rights catastrophe perpetrated against the Uyghur and other minorities in China as documented by the US State Department, he did have something to say when it came to Kanter’s actions.

“I think if you know me, you know I don’t give too many people my energy. He’s definitely not someone I would give my energy to. He’s trying to use my name to create an opportunity for himself. I definitely won’t comment too much on that” ” James said after the game.  “As a man, if you’ve got an issue with somebody, you come up to him. He had his opportunity tonight. I seen him in the hallway and he walked right by me.”

Kanter isn’t new to using his voice.

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The 29-year-old Turkish-American has called out Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the country’s shift to authoritarianism, despite threats against Kanter and his family still living in Turkey.

Kanter participated in “Black Lives Matter” marches last year, and now he is standing up for human rights in China.

To his credit, James has risked blowback by taking political stands during his career, unlike his predecessor, the apolitical Michael Jordan.

James put on a hoodie in remembrance of Trayvon Martin and has publically supported presidential candidates, but in doing so, he volunteers himself for even greater scrutiny when he doesn’t stand up.

The Chinese government has been accused of genocide and using slave labor to produce cotton, cotton which has been linked to Nike products, though Nike denies these claims.

James has a lifetime contract with Nike worth more than $30 million a year, while the NBA contracted Nike to be the league’s official jersey supplier through the 2024-25 season.

The NBA makes at least $500 million a year from China, with a $1.5 billion deal with China’s Tencent, their exclusive digital partner for the country.

Plus, at least ten percent of the league’s growth outside of the US is in China.

The financial stakes are high for Nike, James, and the NBA, but Enes Kanter shows no signs that he will just shut up and dribble.

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