Pizza and Politics

Haute Plates with a twist
Credit: facebook.com/BlazePizza

When I was a much younger man I had what the kids used to call “hops,” and though half-blind I could shoot once in a while too. I was never very good, but I played basketball every day in college and law school and I had a few days where I felt like I couldn’t miss a shot. Those were good days.

That’s what Lebron James must feel like every time he walks onto a court. He’s an incredibly talented player and I’m sure he’s a good person too. But I read recently that he’s an owner of Blaze Pizza (located on both O’Keefe Avenue and Freret Street), and given his recent comments I’m not inclined to visit the place.

For those of you who don’t know, there was a kerfluffle recently when the general manager of the Houston Rockets had the very nerve to “tweet” something in support of the protests that have been going on in Hong Kong for the last several months. The tweet in question was, “Fight For Freedom. Stand With Hong Kong.” The backlash from his tweet was immediate, and it was removed and he apologized. The NBA issued a statement supporting the rights of its folks to speak their minds and issued another statement in Chinese that essentially said the opposite.

I understand the reasoning. The NBA is a global brand and it is very popular in China. China is a huge country and therefore a huge market. From a business perspective it would be foolish to say something that upset the powers that control that market. Lebron came out in favor of China in the debate, at least initially, when he was reported by NBC to have said:

Yes, we do have freedom of speech,” James said. “But at times, there are ramifications for the negative that can happen when you’re not thinking about others, when you only think about yourself. I don’t want to get into a word or sentence feud with Daryl Morey, but I believe he wasn’t educated on the situation at hand, and he spoke. So many people could have been harmed, not only financially but physically, emotionally, spiritually. So just be careful what we tweet and what we say and what we do. Even though yes, we do have freedom of speech, it can be a lot of negative that comes with it.

Then, according to the article on NBC, when asked to clarify his thoughts, James went further:

“I believe (Morey) was either misinformed or not really educated on the situation, and if he was, then so be it,” James said. “But I have no idea. That’s just my belief. When you say things or do things, you’re doing it and you know the people that can be affected by it, and the families and the individuals and everyone that can be affected by it. Sometimes things can be challenging as well. Also sometimes, social media is not always the proper way to go about things as well. But that’s just my belief.”

Lebron James has been an outspoken and justifiably recognized champion of human rights in other contexts. I want to make clear that I support those other efforts, but I think he missed the boat on this one. This is not all about Lebron James, obviously, because the NBA as a whole has come out looking like apologists for the Chinese government in this thing.

We live in a “free country” (for the most part) and it offends our delicate sensibilities when one of our citizens is censored. Obviously our First Amendment doesn’t apply in this setting, because the person speaking was not prevented from speaking by the U.S. government. But ultimately Mr. Morey’s tweet was censored by the Chinese government and Lebron came down on the wrong side.

It’s entirely possible he has a legitimate issue with the protests – they’ve been violent and violence is seldom a good strategy if you’re looking for political change. But it’s hard to believe that Lebron’s problem is philosophical and not the fact that his shoes, jerseys and his “brand” are all huge in China.

Lebron and everyone else associated with the NBA have the opportunity – not the obligation, but the opportunity – to speak up for what they believe in. Where the protests in Hong Kong are concerned, if Lebron or any other player in the NBA has an opinion they should be free to express it and if that opinion displeases the Chinese government then so be it. Hell, such is the influence the NBA reportedly has in China it might even change some minds.

I won’t suffer from not eating at Blaze Pizza, because there are many, many great pizza options in New Orleans. I suspect the same is true in Baton Rouge and possibly in any other town in Louisiana where Blaze plans to open. I probably wouldn’t have gone back to Blaze anyway, to be honest, so I’m not exactly sacrificing anything.

I’m open to reasonable discussion about this. It’s been years since I’ve truly studied China and perhaps I’m mistaken about things in Hong Kong. But I wonder how Lebron is going to feel when the tanks eventually roll in? Because we’ll all be watching just as we were when the tanks showed up at Tiananmen, and I’d hate to be choking down a slice from Blaze Pizza when it happens.

 

 

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