USA Basketball Mum On Darfur
LeBron James, Kobe Bryant or any other member of Team USA will not use the Beijing Olympics as a platform to raise awareness to the crisis in Darfur. Back in May, James told ESPN that he would encourage his teammates to make a formal statement about how China has helped fund a genocide by supporting the Sudanese government as its primary trade partner for oil.
Here is a video from an ESPN piece on the subject that ran on Sunday:
James reiterated on Thursday that he would focus on basketball and basketball alone the next few weeks. "I don't want to bring no distractions to our team. My number one goal coming here was not to speak on political issues, it was to come win a gold medal," James said. "I said if I was asked the question then I would answer, and I'd say that basic human rights should be protected. That's how I feel. It's not going to go further than that. It's not going to go less than that."
The reason for James's change of heart is unclear. The NBA has considerable business interest in China after establishing a subsidiary of the league here last year. James and Bryant are also the two most prominent endorsers for Nike, which sponsors Team USA and also has a huge stake in the Chinese economic market.
Some have speculated that U.S. Managing Director Jerry Colangelo recently addressed the team and told them to avoid politicizing these Olympics. "That's not true -- absolutely unequivocally not," Colangelo said this week. "As a matter of fact, I did the opposite. [I told them,] 'If your heart tells you say it, say it.' We told our players, no one has a muzzle. Some of us voiced our opinions. My opinion was, we're here for the Olympics. We're here for the sport. There is a lot more we can accomplish by doing what we need to do."
U.S. Coach Mike Krzyzewski echoed Colangelo. "Any of our players can speak about whatever they want to speak," he said. "But I think we've all taken the approach that we're here for sport. We want to make sure that we're good ambassadors for our country and make sure that we're representing our game here in the Olympics."
Earlier this year, Bryant filmed this public service announcement:
But when asked if he planned to comment further while in China, Bryant said, "That's where we'll leave it. We're going to focus on what we've got to do. We've got enough on our plate to bring back the gold medal. So we let the people that know best about the situation handle that situation and us do what we do."
Colangelo said "there is time and place" for everything, but he personally believes that speaking out during the Olympics would be inappropriate. "We have empathy for what's happening, be it in Tibet or Darfur, and if our players are asked and their heart tells to say something, that's up to them," he said. "I know people want quotes from some of these athletes on these issues, but come Aug. 26, I don't think we'll be asking those same questions. It's kind of newsy now. I don't have an issue with that at all."
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