By Rich Lowry
Nike’s latest TV ad is another slick paean to individual empowerment and prevailing despite the naysayers.
Centered around Memphis Grizzlies star Ja Morant, the commercial features various people doubting that Morant can keep up his stellar play, to which someone always cheekily replies, “Says who?”
Yes, Nike believes anything is possible — so long as it doesn’t involve doing anything to cross one of the world’s most hideously repressive regimes.
The grotesque hypocrisy of the Nike-NBA industrial complex and its biggest star, Lebron James, has been underlined in recent weeks by Boston Celtics player Enes Kanter, who has been on a one-man crusade against the Chinese Communist Party and those too cowardly or greedy to call it out.
James — the owner of four NBA championship rings who has appeared in a jaw-dropping 10 NBA finals — has views on all sorts of public controversies and doesn’t hesitate to air them so long as they are comfortably within the fashionable woke consensus.
On China, though, he’s mute. So are his employers. They all portray themselves as champions of social justice and of courage and striving, but their commitment to these causes and values stops at the water’s edge — and at their bottom line.
When a couple of years ago, the Houston Rockets general manager got thrown under the bus by the NBA for tweeting in support of pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong, King James pronounced him “not educated on the situation.”
The Lakers forward affirmed a right to free speech — thanks, GOAT! — but said we have to be careful what we say. “So many people,” he warned, “could have been harmed, not only financially but physically, emotionally, spiritually.”
Never has so much harm been attributed to a small message of public support for plucky idealists about to be steamrolled by a totalitarian government.
During the Kyle Rittenhouse trial, by the way, James mocked Rittenhouse’s tears on the stand, doubting they were real — apparently because he’s an expert on what constitutes genuine signs of post-traumatic stress.
If Rittenhouse had control over whether a vast market would be open to James and the corporations he’s affiliated with, the Lakers star surely would have stayed silent.
When Kanter tweeted, “Money over Morals for the ‘King,'” and wore sneakers portraying James bowing down to get crowned by Chinese dictator Xi Jinping for a Celtics-Lakers game, James brushed it off. He accused Kanter of “trying to use my name to create an opportunity for himself.”
Actually, Kanter’s activism, calling out his league and a massively influential corporation, is what everyone says they value — a lonely, unwelcome campaign against well-heeled interests too compromised to defy a powerful entity perpetrating rank injustices.
After Nike got blowback in China for a relatively anodyne statement expressing concern about forced labor in Xinjiang — the epicenter of the regime’s repression of the Uyghurs — the company’s CEO said Nike is “a brand of China and for China.”
Nike lobbied Congress to weaken an anti-forced-labor bill, lest a measure aimed at crimping a vast human-rights abuse discomfit the corporate giant too greatly.
“Says who?” the new Nike ad asks. Clearly, the Chinese regime.
“You can’t stop us,” intoned a viral ad last year. Well, actually you can, provided you are an authoritarian bully with an enormous consumer base.
“Just do it” went the most iconic Nike ad. No, second thought, better to “Just don’t” if it might anger a government that disappeared a star athlete for the offense of accusing an official of sexual assault and is preparing to invade a neighboring country.
If China were to take Taiwan, would the NBA, Nike or Lebron James do anything more than offer vague expressions of concern and piffle about how the situation is complicated?
We certainly know what Enes Kanter would say. Which is why he rightly deserves a Nike ad celebrating his go-it-alone truth-telling, and why, of course, he’ll never get one.
Rich Lowry is editor of the National Review.(c) 2021 by King Features Synd., Inc.