A former ESPN anchor called out NBA superstar LeBron James for not criticizing China’s human rights record while media commentators blasted some of the country’s top golfers for signing up with a new Saudi-backed venture for big dollars.

Bob Ley, an Emmy Award-winning anchor who spent decades at ESPN hosting shows like “SportsCenter” and “Outside the Lines,” told The Athletic podcaster Michelle Beadle that the media was obsessing over American golfers while giving the NBA a pass.

“It’s real easy to be pissed off and angry about LIV Golf and the Saudis. All I ask for is philosophical and ideological consistency,” Ley said. “Apply it to China consistently, LeBron.”

Critics have noted that while James was vocal in his activism following George Floyd’s death, he had little to say about China’s human rights record, especially after the country punished the NBA for a pro-Hong Kong tweet posted in 2019 by basketball executive Daryl Morey.

Bob Ley, the former ESPN anchor
Bob Ley, the former ESPN anchor, made the comments during a podcast interview with Michelle Beadle.
TNS via Getty Images

Morey, who was general manager of the Houston Rockets at the time, tweeted in support of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong — prompting Chinese authorities to remove NBA games from the television airwaves and scale back its business ties with the league.

The NBA, which had built up an extensive multi-billion dollar footprint in China, lost hundreds of millions of dollars as a result of Beijing’s reaction to Morey’s tweet.

Ley said that James, who recently became a billionaire, should focus his human rights activism on the Asian country.

“LeBron, I think, has a responsibility, and an opportunity more importantly,” Ley said.

“And it’s easy for people to come to the conclusion that players, at a time when social voice and equity are very much a part of sports, mores o than ever before, here’s an opportunity to make a stand.”

He added: “If you are a billionaire, you can afford to perhaps make a stand and at least become educated.”

Ley’s comments to Beadle’s “What Did I Miss?” podcast were cited by the news site Breitbart.

It’s unclear why Ley singled out James, as the Lakers star hasn’t commented publicly on the controversy over the new LIV Golf tour.

Lebron James
James was one of the NBA stars who was most vocal in criticizing police in the wake of the fatal arrest of George Floyd.
NBAE via Getty Images

LIV Golf is the series of events financed by a Saudi-backed sovereign wealth fund. So far, it has poached some big-name golfers who have defected from the PGA Tour, including Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, and Bryson DeChambeau.

Critics slammed the golfers, who were enticed to join LIV Golf with massive paydays, for enabling the Saudi government to engage in “sportswashing” — or using sports to deflect attention away from their human rights record.

Ley commented that the NBA’s close business relationship with China has avoided scrutiny.

Lebron takes a knee courtside
While James has been among the most high profile athletes in calling for racial justice, he has been largely silent on China’s human rights record.
Getty Images

“China has as many issues as any other country, and is the outrage tempered by the popularity of the sport and the dollars at stake?” he said.

Ley concluded: “If you wanna get in a froth about LIV Golf, and you have every right to…take a pause, take a deep breath and look at China and see, should this outrage or this introspection and this attention extend to the NBA?”



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Tyler Cowan