[photopress:0804_C22.jpg,full,alignright]I wrote before about an open letter to the Chinese government, written by an obscure but politically conscientious basketball player, circulating in the locker room of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers, who are now about to enter the Finals. You will recall that the letter, which condemns China’s investment in Sudan given the crisis in Darfur, was signed by all players on the team save superstar Lebron James (right), who is a member of the 2008 Olympic team and enthusiastic enough about his support from Chinese fans to be taking Mandarin lessons, and role player Damon Jones, who, it must be noted, has an endorsement contract with Chinese shoe brand Li Ning.
For James, it appears that leaving his John Hancock off the letter has landed him in hot water with certain members of the media in the US. Jonathan Zimmerman of the Christian Science Monitor took him to task (calling him "cowardly"), and Charles P. Pierce of Slate has followed suit, comparing his unwillingness to take a stand with that of Michael Jordan:
Of course, Jordan wrote the book on how to become a wildly popular and successful athlete without demonstrating even the sliver of a public conscience. More to the point, he created a new template for risk-free stardom, whereby involvement in the unruly hurly-burly of the real world is something that a star is not expected to do. Do the public-service ads for the safe issues, but go no deeper into the forces that create those issues in the first place.
And that’s the real pity. The Darfur letter was, you should pardon the expression, a slam dunk. Had James signed it, nothing would have happened to him. Were Coke and Microsoft going to cancel his contracts while he was putting up a transcendent playoff performance? Not bloody likely, and that goes double for Nike, which is as heavily invested in China as it is in James himself. The NBA wouldn’t have dared say anything, not with the league slow-dancing with the Chinese government itself. And does any person with the moral compass that God gave the common gopher really care what the International Olympic Committee says about anything any more?
So now that a new cycle of discussion on the subject has begun – this time including a public rebuke of a highly visible star – my wonder is whether the Chinese internet will pick up on the story (the press certainly won’t), and what posters on message boards and blogs will have to say about it. If you find anything, please do let us know.
In Chinese: LeBron James = 勒布朗-詹姆斯; Sudan = 苏丹
Related: Imagethief: Did the "Genocide Olympics" influence China?