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LeBron James ‘passes the ball’ when it comes to Hong Kong

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Last Friday, all hell broke loose in Hong Kong’s Legislative Council. Eleven pro-democracy members of the Council were forcibly removed from the chamber, following their efforts to prevent a Beijing-backed member from taking over the chair of a committee that clears bills for consideration by the legislature. Among the bills in the hopper: a measure making it a crime, punishable by up to three years in jail, to show disrespect toward the playing of the Chinese national anthem.

For several years now, at the start of sporting events in particular, Hong Kongers have made it clear by their hoots and hollers that the Chinese anthem holds no place of honor with them. Beijing’s pressure to bring Hong Kong under its thumb and ignore its pledge both to maintain the territory’s autonomy and to expand electoral rights has turned the city that had initially welcomed its return to China into a hotbed of civil unrest and mass protests.

Lebron James acted

Last October, just before the start of the NBA season, Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey found himself in hot water when, in support of the protests by Hong Kongers, he posted the image “Fight For Freedom. Stand With Hong Kong.” The reaction from around the league was swift, with Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta quickly distancing himself from his GM. Morey deleted his tweet.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver eventually defended Morey’s right to express his opinion (saying the “values of equality, respect and freedom of expression have long defined the NBA”). However, it was LeBron James’ — this generation’s greatest player and perhaps the most influential athlete in the world — response to the GM’s tweet that got the most attention. “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.”

Morey, of course, was not only thinking of himself when he posted his support for Hong Kong’s democrats. And, to be clear, neither was James. Players’ paychecks come from a pot tied to the league’s domestic and global revenues. Take away the hundreds of millions China pays for televising NBA games and marketing rights and that pot, and its dividends, will certainly get smaller.

But the pot is not small to begin with. NBA revenues last year were $8 billion. The players, who share over 50 percent of the revenues, already make gobs of money. That’s true for the stars, whose take-home pay reaches well into the tens of millions annually, as well as the roster fillers, where average league salary is over $6 million a year. The idea that a decline in revenues from China would have, as James implies, a devastating impact “physically, emotionally, spiritually” on NBA athletes is a bit hard to believe.

Moreover, “King” James recently expressed views about respecting the US national anthem that are inconsistent with his dismissal of Morey’s support for protesting Hong Kongers. In February, he was asked about San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the Star Spangled Banner before games in protest of “a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” James’ response was: “I think it’s important to stick up for what you believe in. … I think with Kap, I stand with Kap, I kneel with Kap. … I think that anybody that would sacrifice their livelihood for the betterment of all of us, I can respect that and he’s done that.”

“King” James’ support of Colin Kaepernick is understandable. Racial injustice is worthy of protest. It concerns a dispute about which America’s most famous sports stars have not been shy in speaking their minds. Because it is a domestic issue, it is also not surprising that it has been their focus. But James’ criticism of Morey’s support for Hong Kong democrats reaches beyond America’s borders — both literally and substantively.

Kaepernick was willing to put at risk a career and forgo the income that comes with being a NFL quarterback. That’s a lot more than LeBron James would lose if he were also supportive of Hong Kongers’ right to protest by not putting their hands over their hearts as “March of the Volunteers” was played over a loudspeaker.

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NBA bubble observations: LeBron James narrative is a bit overstated

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A shortened season was advantageous to a number of older Lakers. Rajon Rondo is 34, Dwight Howard 34, Danny Green 33 and Markieff Morris 31. And it gave a stronger likelihood of injury-prone Anthony Davis staying healthy..

1. I am not here to place a Phil Jackson asterisk on the Lakers’ 17th championship like the Zen Master did on the lockout-shortened, 1999 campaign. But let’s not get carried away with the rhetoric that LeBron James’ fourth title is more worthy because it was done amid 100 days in the NBA bubble, away from family.

James underscored that theme after the Lakers topped the Heat in Game 6 of the NBA Finals last Sunday, stating: “You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t have ups and downs in the bubble. At times I was questioning myself: Should I be here? Is this worth sacrificing my family?”
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In fact, the elderly Lakers saw their chances of winning the title enhanced by the restart format. The season was shut down for four months, allowing James to rest his 35-year-old bones. James didn’t play a regular-season game from March 10-July 30. A total of 71 regular-season games were played in the season, 11 fewer than usual.

A shortened season was advantageous to a number of older Lakers. Rajon Rondo is 34, Dwight Howard 34, Danny Green 33 and Markieff Morris 31. And it gave a stronger likelihood of injury-prone Anthony Davis staying healthy.

The grueling travel for a West Coast team was eliminated. In The Finals alone, a six-game series would have required James’ Lakers to enter the Eastern time zone twice. Wipe out the five-hour flights to and from Miami and replace it with a five-minute bus ride to their Gran Destino resort, and that’s one factor why James looked fresh as a daisy.

Dwight Howard and LeBron James celebrate winning the NBA championship.Getty Images

This wasn’t the usual physical grind of an NBA season. Even on charter flights, air travel takes a massive physical toll. The Lakers’ average age of 29.07 ranked as second-oldest in the league entering the season.

2. It’s not his most important decision, but I hope commissioner Adam Silver changes the dress code for NBA head coaches next season and forbids the sweatsuit look. It felt too much like summer league. Bring back the more dignified jacket-and-tie look. Or at least the jacket.

3. BetMGM sportbook lists the Nuggets at 20/1 (tied for ninth choice) to win the 2021 title. From the Western Conference, the Lakers, Clippers and Warriors are ahead of Denver, which made this year’s conference finals. It’s a young team getting better. Guard Jamal Murray looked like the NBA’s newest superstar. Nikola Jokic is already there. And Michael Porter Jr., selected 14th by the Nuggets in 2018, is going to get there, which will make Knicks fans even more miserable after their team passed on him to take Kevin Knox with the No. 9-overall pick that year. Michael Malone is an elite coach. At 20/1, the Nuggets are a terrific bet.
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4. The 76ers had a miserable bubble result, but Doc Rivers is the right new voice to revive “Trust the Process’’ and get Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris thriving. If the Knicks only knew Rivers would’ve been available …

5. Silver got a lot of credit for shutting out COVID-19 positives, but Chris Paul, president of the Players Association, deserves as much credit for keeping the players unified. “Chris saved the season,’’ one NBA source said in referring to the pause of play after the Kenosha, Wis., shooting of Jacob Blake in August. Don’t think Knicks president Leon Rose didn’t notice the leadership of his former client.

6. With Davis expected to opt out and re-sign with the Lakers, the smart play would be pass on a long-term package and execute a 1-and-1 deal. That would make him a free agent in 2021. He still gets to defend the crown with James, but provides insurance in case LeBron finally succumbs to age in a normal 82-game marathon.
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Lastly, Davis may want his “own” team. James garnered most of the buzz after the Lakers won the title — pundits analyzing whether his fourth ring or “one for the thumb” 2021 journey will stack up against Michael Jordan. It will never be an AD championship as long as James is alongside. The Knicks were once on “The Brow’s” radar. They should have cap space in 2021.

7. The Nets may wind up regretting that they passed on Tyronn Lue, who will now helm the Clippers. As one person close to Lue said recently, “There are many great things you can say about Tyronn, but if you really boil it down to one thing, it’s that he has no ego. And that personality is key with Kyrie [Irving] and KD [Kevin Durant]. Kyrie overthinks. And Tyronn doesn’t think too hard — and that’s not in a negative way.’’

8. Some teams are deciding not to partake in the loosening up of draft-preparation guidelines that will allow scouts to fly to a designated city with other clubs and watch a Pro Day-like live workout. Usually those Pro Days feature meaningless 1-on-0 drills. Some 1-on-1 interviews will be granted but with no guarantees. Some teams believe the COVID-19 risk outweighs the reward. New York has protocols that require two-week quarantines after returning from many states. One executive from a club that won’t attend told The Post the best intel is watching a prospect at his college practice. “Doing your own homework and own background checks are more important,’’ the executive said.

9. Hats off to Nets owner Joe Tsai. Without any events at which to sell them, Barclays Center donated 14,000 pounds of food Thursday from its arena to City Harvest, Food Bank for New York City and The Campaign Against Hunger. During the pandemic, the Nets helped feed 30,000 New Yorkers in need.

10. Reality Check Insights conducted a survey of 1,400 Americans on “Racing and Policing” and included an NBA question to measure if the league has become political. The findings, their research team found, is very much so. The survey showed 75.9 percent of Republicans rated the NBA as either “unfavorable/very unfavorable.’’ Democrats voted the NBA as 13 percent “unfavorable/very unfavorable’’ Independents came in at 37.7 percent.

“The just 13 percent of Republicans who rate the NBA as favorable is very similar to the percent of Republicans who had a favorable opinion of Black Lives Matter,’’ the poll’s researcher Benjamin Leff said. “People’s view of the NBA might be closely tied to the league’s posture on social-justice issues. Just like many parts of our lives, the NBA is now a political issue.’’

According to industry sources, it has become an agonizing issue for Silver after the NBA Finals ratings’ collapse. Silver has talked about less messaging on jerseys and the court next season. One source said: “It’s a balancing act for Adam. When you’re balancing, sometimes you fall.’’

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