NBA Stars Denounce Hamas Torture but Enable China’s
It’s taken a surprising amount of courage for U.S. celebrities to stand up and condemn Hamas’s slaughter of innocent Israelis. For some, like Kylie Jenner, that courage was short-lived. But for others, only an atrocity the scale of October 7 could bring the country’s out-of-touch stars into alignment with everyday American sentiment. It’s just unfortunate that, in the case of big names like LeBron James, those sympathies don’t extend to people suffering ISIS-like tortures every day.
Ignoring the wave of pro-Palestinian pushback that scared off Jenner, the NBA’s leading scorer posted that “the devastation in Israel” was “tragic and unacceptable.” “The murder and violence against innocent people by Hamas is terrorism,” he wrote on Instagram in conjunction with his production business. “The SpringHill Company family extends our deepest condolences to Israel and the Jewish community. We pray for peace in the region and reiterate our continued commitment to fight hate in all its forms. We all must work to ensure this tragedy does not spread even more hate, racism, and antisemitism.”
It was a surprisingly strong statement from a man who once declared, “I’m definitely woke” — and whose far-left causes have included everything from bashing the police to exaggerating voter suppression. But no matter what LeBron’s politics have been, good on the face of pro basketball to call out the evil that violently took more than 1,500 innocent lives. It’s just a shame he refuses to do the same for the monsters lining the NBA’s pockets.
The week before Hamas’s butchers stormed across the Gaza border, American leaders from both parties sat down to write the league about another horror: China’s persecution of the Uyghurs. It’s a topic the NBA knows well but, years into the international outrage, refuses to do anything about. However cruel and murderous the Chinese communist regime may be, its lucrative partnership, league officials have decided, is too valuable to jeopardize over a little something like genocide. After all, one team co-owner scoffed, “Nobody cares about what’s happening to the Uyghurs,” right?
They are the two million people, who, more than 4,700 miles away from the body bags of Kibbutz Re’im and Be’eri, are locked behind miles of barbed wire walls. Their nightmare isn’t posted on social media or uploaded in bloody detail to TikTok, but it’s just as real. In China’s version of a holocaust, the world doesn’t hear the screams of daughters being dragged off; it doesn’t see the mothers taken to rooms and raped. They only see the scars of a hell where China demands “absolutely no mercy.”
Survivors like Abduweli Ayup still have trouble sleeping. When he was first captured, the police sexually tortured him until he passed out. When he woke, he says he remembers the strangest things, like the flies buzzing around the room. For once, he wished he was one of them. “Because no one can torture them. No one can rape them.”
The ruthless tactics used on Uyghurs are an open secret, thanks to whistleblowers, who shudder to think of what they saw as police detectives. Jiang’s memories — of prisoners in “tiger chairs,” of hanging people from the ceiling, waterboarding, wooden torches, wrecking bars, and whips — will never leave him. Or his victims.
“There were girls from my room who passed out from being beaten so hard and had nails put into their fingers to make blood pour out,” Gulbakhar Jalilova says quietly. Women are starved, sterilized, gang-raped, and hooked up to machines that electrocute their private parts. Others never make it out at all, victims of the lucrative organ harvesting ring China is running deep within Xinjiang. A ring, eyewitnesses say, that prides itself on operating on fully awake patients.
If you’re lucky enough to be released from the camps, another form of suffering awaits. The Chinese call it “graduation.” Survivors call it slave labor. Millions of them, shipped off to factories where they work grueling hours stitching shoes and jerseys the NBA wears without apology.
That, members of both parties insist, has to change. “NBA players should not be subsidizing genocide by endorsing or wearing gear from Chinese sportswear companies complicit in forced labor,” Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) wrote to the league. It was one of two letters sent by the Congressional-Executive Commission on China that shamed the league for failing to care about “the sad reality of genocide.”
In the sternest of terms, the leaders demanded the NBA stop the sale of gear made in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR). Back in 2021, Congress took a stand on some of this with the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, but there are loopholes the league has exploited — including letting players make multi-million dollar endorsement deals with Chinese companies, who are abusing prisoners as free labor.
Enes Kanter Freedom, who’s been outspoken about the NBA’s heartless opportunism, testified before the congressional commission in July about the ways the league was avoiding the law. “So when I saw that letter, [it] actually [gave] me so much hope, because just last year, a total of 17 players signed with a Chinese shoe brand — and that number is growing every day,” he said. “Just recently, one of the best players actually in the NBA, Kyrie Irving, signed with the company called Anta, [which is] a Chinese brand. So we have to hold companies and organization[s] and actually players accountable.”
Asked by Fox News’s Martha MacCallum if the NBA might ban deals like Irving’s, Enes could only shake his head. “You know, the only thing that many of the players care about, like Kyrie, like LeBron, or many others is just money.” It’s sad, he pointed out, because “whenever there’s a problem in America, they’re the first one to criticize it. But they love to go out there and sign with a company who was pretty much involved with slave labor.”
“Trust me,” Kanter Freedom said, “They all know [about] the ongoing genocide. They all know all their shoes and t-shirts or jerseys made by slave kids with slave labor. But they’re going to talk about the problems [that] are happening in America, because they know that it’s not going to hit their pocket. But they are just too scared to say anything about the Chinese government because they have shoe deals, endorsement deals, jersey sales, and many other things. I mean, look at LeBron. … [H]e literally became a billionaire. You know, what else do you want? Put yourself in their shoes. Have some empathy and sympathy. So it is breaking my heart. But, I mean, we just got to keep holding people accountable.”
For now, NBA officials say they’ve “received the letter and are reviewing it.” That should be interesting, since ESPN calculates that the 40 principal owners in the NBA’s franchises “have more than $10 billion collectively invested in China.” That’s a lot of dough to have tied up with murderous dictators who hate America.
LeBron’s line has always been that it’s “too much” to ask players to call out China’s inhumanity. Or, more accurately, it would cost too much. So he moralizes about social justice from America’s safe cocoon — while simultaneously raking in the dollars from a communist regime running the largest torture network since the 1930s.
As Family Research Council’s Arielle Del Turco points out, “It’s great that LeBron James is publicly supportive of Israel — not every public figure is brave enough to do so in our current heated political climate. However, there seems to be some hypocrisy here. LeBron is happy to make a public statement against terrorism, but when speaking up against human rights violations could cost him financially, he remains totally silent.” The reality is, she went on, “LeBron is living an immensely privileged lifestyle and directly benefitting from companies that have been tied to the use of forced labor of oppressed Uyghur people in Xinjiang, China. Yet, he has shown absolutely no concern for Uyghur victims in China.”
“If LeBron wants to be a credible voice on human rights issues,” Del Turco insisted, “his first step must be to stop being a part of the problem and refuse to associate with companies that source their products in the Xinjiang region, where millions of Uyghurs are trapped in forced labor factories. Actions speak louder than words, and time will tell if LeBron is sincere enough to take action. For the sake of the victims, I hope he will be.”
Suzanne Bowdey serves as editorial director and senior writer at The Washington Stand.