Ex-ESPN star Bob Ley on LIV Golf criticism: Should the same ‘outrage’ be extended to the NBA?

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Former ESPN journalist Bob Ley, in a recent podcast interview, wondered if the same criticism of LIV Golf and its ties to Saudi Arabia should be applied to the NBA and its ties to China.

Ley appeared on Michelle Beadle’s What Did I Miss? podcast, and the two former ESPN personalities spoke about sportswear amid the making of LIV Golf.

The rival golf tour and the players who joined the league have come under scrutiny and have been accused of helping Saudi Arabia use sportswear to soften criticism of the kingdom’s human rights abuses.

Many players have accepted large sums of money to join the league, but most have downplayed money as a reason for joining the league and leaving the PGA Tour.

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Longtime ESPN anchor Bob Ley (right) speaks with ESPN Coordinating Director Chip Dean at the company’s 40th anniversary celebration on Friday.
(Getty Images)

Ley told Beadle on the podcast that the NBA’s relationship with China should be scrutinized just as closely.

“The LIV golf thing has unleashed a fury of convenient and simple outrage, not that I disagree at all. … It’s really easy to be p—– mad and angry at LIV Gulf and Saudi. All I ask is philosophical and ideological consistency. Apply it consistently to China, LeBron,” he said.

Ley noted the NBA’s response to former Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s supportive tweet in 2019 about Hong Kong protesters. The tweet rocked the NBA’s relationship with China, which later opened the door to how closely linked the two entities were. The result was a blackout of NBA games in China that lasted several months and cost the league millions.

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LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman stands on a tee during the final round of the inaugural LIV Golf Invitational at Centurion Club in St Albans, England on June 11, 2022.

LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman stands on a tee during the final round of the inaugural LIV Golf Invitational at Centurion Club in St Albans, England on June 11, 2022.
(AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

“There were other reports. I mean, the Fainaru brothers on ESPN.com have shown some of the things with camps and knowledge of what the NBA is involved with,” Ley said. “China has as many problems as any country, and is the outrage tempered by the sport’s popularity and the dollars at stake?”

He also specifically mentioned that LeBron James had an “opportunity” to raise the curtain on the issue. He didn’t. The James Los Angeles Lakers team was in China when the tweet’s episodes began. He waited until everyone was back in the US to make a statement.

LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers shoots a free throw during a game against the Detroit Pistons at the Staples Center on November 28, 2021 in Los Angeles.

LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers shoots a free throw during a game against the Detroit Pistons at the Staples Center on November 28, 2021 in Los Angeles.
(Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images)

“I think LeBron has a responsibility and more importantly, an opportunity,” Ley said. “And it’s easy for people to conclude that at a time when social voice and equity are a part of sport more than ever, here’s an opportunity for players to take a stand.

“If you’re a billionaire, you can afford to maybe take a stand and at least get an education. Freedom of expression in China is a different matter altogether. Free access to the Internet is another matter entirely. Is there an opposition party? China? Oh no, not in the last 60 or 70 years. Are we comfortable dealing with such a nation and putting everything on the table? These are questions that people must answer.

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“If you want to get excited about LIV Golf – and you have every right to be – pause, take a deep breath and look to China. Should this outrage and introspection extend to the NBA?”

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