On The Communists And The Rockets
The preferment of liberty to tyranny was, so I thought, an entirely settled case. After all, was this not the question, the eventual casus belli, indeed the vital dichotomy over which our inchoate nation fought its first real war? Our mid-eighteenth-century American forebears, a distant group of men and women with whom the majority of us—so varied in our provenance and the hues of our skin—share rather philosophic than biologic links, made their intentions on this matter quite clear. In fact, they strained to make them uncompromisingly lucid, if only to avoid them being lost in the shades and the colorings of time. Their hope was that their preference to the light of liberty, to the incandescent, inviolable burning torch of freedom, wouldn’t require very much in the way of an explanation nor a studied defense.
For that reason, one need not plunge especially deeply into the depths of her patriotic soul, nor peruse with learned patience the lines of that age’s oratorical giants if she’s to retrieve from their undying words an example of their collective thought. Merely utter in the busy exhalation of your next departing breath the following three words, “Give me liberty…” and the immortality of the line’s second half will, as if involuntarily compelled, follow. The alternative to liberty, as that Virginia governor, that eloquent attorney, and that fatherly founder to whom we owe so much resoundingly declaimed, “Give me death!” Something of a Hobson’s choice in a Hobbesian moment (with war inching ever closer to his own front step), Patrick Henry was primed not to take what was first and most easily available to him (the tyranny of the British crown), but what was most natural to man and, paradoxically, most strenuously to be acquired—the right to one’s own liberty and the freedom to be.
Today, we observe with shame and, frankly, with disquiet as a third option introduces itself alongside those aforementioned two. Liberty and tyranny, strung at their opposites with a painful disharmony, tension, and noise, continue to waft in the air like an ancient tune. The former’s tendency, if Aristotle is to be believed, is to devolve into the latter. History has too often proven correct “The Philosopher” (as the Medieval scholastics, known for their mononyms, preferred to call him) by whom the great Alexander was taught. Liberty, left unchecked, becomes unstable. Unbound by convention and aristocratic oversight, it slips with dizzying verve into tyranny, as does an insouciantly dancing boy off the edge of a cliff. Tyranny is the net into which he falls. The surface by which his descent is interrupted is not soft and the echo made upon his landing is extreme. It creates a monotonous, often cruelly monarchical sound to which our slavish ears are made to submit.
The third chord to this all, the final ingredient in this mix is profitability. The music and the fall is thus complete. To review, we see set before us liberty, tyranny, and the motive for a profit. Usually, only two of the three can cohabitate, though never the first and second. Profit, however, is conformable to any environment and, in the thicket of nearly every political jungle, can blend in and find its way to coexistence and to thrive.
This is the triangular web in which the NBA now finds itself entangled. Over this weekend past, the General Manager for the league’s Houston Rockets franchise, Daryl Morey, shot off a tweet. “Fight for Freedom”—he somewhat un-controversially declared—with the addition, indeed the imploration that we ought to join with him and “Stand with Hong Kong”. I hope, in having kept yourself abreast of the situation embroiling that formerly British province, I need not delve into the issue at this time. Suffice it to say, the situation by which Hong Kong, for at least twenty consecutive weeks, has been kept awake and on the edge of revolt is tenuous.
Not unlike that Patrick Henry line by which we still, all these years later, feel ourselves completely possessed, Morey’s words were brief. Added, I think, to this well-conceived brevity was whole mountain of moral clarity—a weight similar to that with which Henry’s were carried. It’s amazing to see how much movement can be effected with so little being said. That said, as were Patrick Henry’s words, Morey’s were inimical to the power under whose nose the burgeoning, freedom-loving country was shaking and clamoring. Tencent, the technology platform through which NBA games are to be streamed in that country, immediately broke its relationship with the Rockets. It threatened, at the risk of prodigious monetary loss, to do the same to any other team whose manager might find himself burdened by his conscience.
The opportunity for the league to display its moral clarity and courage, to announce and affirm the scruples on which it’s supposedly founded was ripe. It need only be plucked. The NBA, however, bobbled the attempt. It picked up the chance and tossed it to the floor, as if were a deflated ball and an empty cause.
The NBA, having established a germinal presence in swelling Chinese sports and entertainment market, was quick to distance itself from Morey’s remarks. The fertility of the Chinese audience (to whose Eastern relish basketball has arrived like an intoxicating Western drug—much as their fentanyl has crossed the Pacific and succeeded in intoxicating us) and the prospects of the sport’s future popularity in Asia demanded that it demur from the support of one of its own. Left with his liberty to express himself on Twitter’s enticing platform, Morey was left alone, quite in isolation, for the audacity of having done so. The NBA, to whom cupidity and dollars are obviously more important than liberty and morals, has shown no compunction in leaving out to dry Morey as he feels the wrath of that Sino-serpentine, Dragon-like state.
In the pursuit of its dollar, so far as the NBA is concerned, liberty, tyranny, pusillanimity—all three are welcome so long as they pay. The preferment seems to be confused: is that which we most value liberty or tyranny? Or will profitability always come out on top? Morey, in this case, is learning that it does. Thus buried, not only by the Chinese media but by his own employers, we reach down to raise him up—and raise the point he was so bold to make. Freedom is not a gift given, with a complacent shrug of the shoulders and a blink of an eye, but an acquisition for which we and, now, the Hong Kongers continue to fight. Fight on, Hong Kong, fight on Patrick Henry, and fight on Mr. Morey.