In an Oct. 9 meeting that included all members of the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets in Shanghai, LeBron James informed NBA commissioner Adam Silver that it would be unfair for players to speak publicly about the NBA's ongoing dispute with China before the league or commissioner did so, sources told The Athletic's Shams Charania.
Before James raised concerns, Silver reportedly told the players, who were in the country for two exhibition games, that although the league could not speak publicly on the matter while in China - the Chinese government had canceled his planned press conference - players were encouraged to speak with the media and support the league's stance on free speech.
James, however, said the NBA needed to explain the situation first before the players went on record. He cited safety issues that could arise in a foreign country amid a tense situation and the fact that young players would be commenting on a complex political topic.
"Why are we the ones to go through the risks of speaking out in China when the league should be the first to address the matter, with our voices to follow?" one source familiar with the exchange told Charania about the players' and James' line of thinking.
Afterward, James reportedly led a joint players-only meeting involving all personnel from the Lakers and Nets as they assessed the best way to carefully navigate the situation. The Lakers star said that players on both teams were in the situation together and should stand with one another amid the uneasy circumstances, according to Charania.
Two days after the reported talks between Silver and the players, the NBA scrapped media availability for the rest of the China trip, saying that players would have been placed in a "complicated and unprecedented situation."
Sources commended Silver for his open dialogue with the two teams as they searched for a solution.
"Adam deserves a lot of credit because instead of forcing these players in front of cameras in China, he worked with everyone in the room and heard them out," someone who was in the meeting told Charania.
The ongoing situation began when Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey posted a tweet that sided with protesters in Hong Kong over the Chinese government.
Morey's tweet was met with anger in China. The Chinese Basketball Association was the first to respond, announcing it had cut off relations with the Rockets. Other companies quickly followed suit, with China's state media saying it would suspend NBA broadcasts.
The unpredictability of China's government was also reportedly a concern for the players during their trip.
"Being in China, where there was no way of knowing what the Chinese government was thinking or going to do next and the high stakes between the U.S. and China politically (there is currently a trade war between the countries), it was almost impossible for these young players to manage through that situation," a source told Charania.
"Obviously, if they were in the United States or somewhere else, it would have been totally different and handled differently."