Michael Jordan had his infamous "republicans buy sneakers too" moment — and now LeBron James has been accused of letting his wallet do the talking on the NBA's China issue.
The biggest star in American basketball is in damage control after he finally — but controversially — weighed in on a tweet from Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey where he supported Hong Kong's political struggle against China.
The tweet, which included an image bearing the words "fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong" created a tidal wave of anger in China which some estimated could cost the NBA billions.
In response to Mr Morey's tweet, every single Chinese company that usually partners with the NBA announced they were suspending their ties to the league.
It created a tense situation for several NBA teams that were playing exhibition games in the Asian country this week — including James' Los Angeles Lakers — but just when the situation appeared to be dying down, the Space Jam 2 star poured a full can of petrol on the fire.
Asked if Morey should have been reprimanded for his tweet, James was more candid than many would have expected — only in a surprise direction.
"I think when we all sit back and learn from the situation that happened, understand that what you could tweet or could say … we all talk about this freedom of speech, yes, we all do 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," the LA Lakers star said.
"I don't want to get into a feud with Daryl Morey, but I believe he wasn't educated on the situation at hand, and he spoke. And 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."
Despite James' intent, his comments on Morey were seen as support of China.
"Having just been in Hong Kong — on the streets & with the protesters — this kind of garbage is hard to take," US Senator Josh Hawley tweeted. "LeBron, are YOU educated on 'the situation'? Why don't you go to Hong Kong? Why don't you meet the people there risking their lives for their most basic liberties.
"This statement is unbelievable: 'So many people could have been harmed'. By Daryl Morey daring to express sympathy for democracy? News flash: people ARE being harmed — shot, beaten, gassed — right now in Hong Kong. By China. By the Communist Party the NBA is so eager to appease."
"This is absolutely shameful," Fox Sports' Clay Travis said. "LeBron had a week to come up with what to say and he decided to rip an NBA executive who defended democracy. Turns out if you pay him enough LeBron won't just shut up and dribble, he'll defend communist dictatorships."
"Daryl Morey's educational achievements: Has a B.S. in Computer Science from Northwestern University and an M.B.A. from the MIT," added Ryan Saavedra. "LeBron James' educational achievements: High school diploma."
After the immediate backlash James attempted to explain his comments.
"Let me clear up the confusion," he tweeted. "I do not believe there was any consideration for the consequences and ramifications of the tweet. I'm not discussing the substance. Others can talk about that.
"My team and this league just went through a difficult week. I think people need to understand what a tweet or statement can do to others. And I believe nobody stopped and considered what would happen. Could have waited a week to send it."
Morey's tweet was in reference to pro-democracy demonstrations in the semi autonomous Chinese territory that has been mired in escalating violence between protesters and law enforcement.
The tweet was deleted soon after it was posted, and Rockets owner and billionaire casino and restaurant owner Tilman Fertitta quickly rebuked his GM with a tweet saying that Morey does not speak for the team. He added: "Our presence in Tokyo is all about the promotion of the NBA internationally and we are NOT a political organisation."
Despite the swift response from Fertitta, the damage was already done. Former Rockets star Yao Ming took offence to Morey's support for the anti-government protesters and as president of the Chinese Basketball Association, suspended its ties to the Rockets over the tweet.
Events in China promoting a series between the Lakers and Nets were cancelled, NBA media partner Tencent said it was evaluating its plans to cover the league, and China state broadcaster CCTV did not air either pre-season game.