‘None of us are perfect and we all have different issues that we have to get to…’
(Ben Sellers, Liberty Headlines) San Francisco‘s Golden State Warriors have dominated the NBA due to Steph Curry’s point-scoring prowess, but head coach Steve Kerr proved with his massive deflection on the league’s China controversy that the strongest offense may be an aggressive defense.
“Part of having free speech is also electing not to speak,” Kerr said at a press conference Thursday, claiming he lacked the knowledge to address global matters like the human rights abuses in China’s suppression of Hong Kong protestors.
“I hope that you appreciate my right to not, uh, answer that question, because all it does is create a headline and a soundbyte, and I choose not to be a soundbyte,” he continued. “Probably too late for that anyway. I choose not to be that soundbyte.”
The NBA became embroiled in the controversy after Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted in support of the Hong Kong protestors’ struggle against their communist occupiers.
The former British colony, which was handed over to the Chinese in 1997 after more than 150 years of Western rule, is seeking greater autonomy over its legal and political affairs, but the long-simmering protests have cascaded amid China’s violent attempts to silence dissenters.
As the NBA’s market in China continues to grow, the league faced immediate backlash over the pro-Hong Kong message. Morey was compelled to delete his tweet, and the Rockets’ star player, James Harden, was dispatched to do damage control with an apology on Monday.
“We love China. We love playing there,” Harden said. “I know for both of us individually, we go there once or twice a year. They show us the most support and love. So we appreciate them as a fan base and we love everything they’re about and we appreciate the support that they give us individually and as an organization.”
Nonetheless, former Rockets star Yao Ming, head of the Chinese Basketball Association, announced that he was suspending ties with the popular franchise, and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver treaded lightly on the matter to avoid further economic fallout.
Other NBA figures, like Kerr, have been uncharacteristically mute over China, despite their zeal to condemn U.S. policies with loaded language, often painting them as human-rights atrocities.
The Warriors’ preachy play-caller hasn’t shied away from espousing views on hot-button political issues like Black Lives Matter and extreme gun control.
Kerr’s father, Malcolm, a prominent Middle Eastern scholar in Beirut, was murdered by Islamic jihadists in 1984 during the Lebanese Civil War.
“I know what it feels like to have a family member ended by a bullet,” Kerr said at Thursday’s press conference.
But when pressed on the discrepancies between the NBA’s business interests and China’s human-rights record, he quickly pivoted back into safer territory.
“It has not come up in terms of people asking me about it, people discussing it—no,” he said. “Nor has our record of human rights abuses come up either—you know, things that our country needs to look at and resolve. That hasn’t come up either, so none of us are perfect and we all have different issues that we have to get to.”
After seamlessly executing his China evasion and deflection to U.S. criticism, Kerr went for broke with a cross-court buzzer-beater, insisting that even though he had the inalienable right to use his position to spout his anti-U.S. opinions, coaches on the international stage were better off sticking to sports.
“Saying that is my right as an American—doesn’t mean that I hate my country—it means I want to address things, right?” Kerr said.
“But people in China didn’t ask me about uh, you know, people owning AR-15s and mowing each other down in a mall,” he added. “I wasn’t asked that question.”
Firearms are strictly regulated by the Chinese government, and penalties for private gun-ownership violations can result in seven years’ imprisonment.
Video earlier this month of Chinese police opening fire on an 18-year-old student protestor at close range added fuel to the recent outrage in Hong Kong. Chinese officials claimed it was self defense.
Kerr suggested that expecting him to understand all the nuances of the Chinese government’s response and other complicated global issues was simply beyond his pay grade.
“We can play this game all we want and go all over the map and, you know, there’s this issue and that issue,” he said. “You know, the world is a complex place, and there’s more gray than black and white.”