Ian Begley, SNY.tv | Twitter |
The controversy between the NBA and China isn't going anywhere anytime soon. It's a complex issue that involves hundreds of millions of dollars in profit for the league, free speech and a Chinese government that critics say has a history of oppressing dissent.
Some NBA players in China feel like they're caught in the middle of an impossible position.
"They feel they are in tough spot because they're going to have to talk about things that they aren't well-versed on," someone in touch with two players currently in China told SNY. "They thought they were here to play basketball and entertain, and it's turned into a circus."
The NBA cancelled media obligations for players and coaches following the Nets-Lakers game in Shangai on Thursday. ESPN reported that the decision was made at the behest of the Chinese government. The two teams are scheduled to play again on Saturday. It is unclear if they will speak to the media, but it's clear that this is a delicate topic for the NBA.
Nets and Lakers players and coaches will certainly be asked about the trip and surrounding events at some point. On Thursday, a reporter from CNN in Japan was told to stick to basketball questions when she asked James Harden about speaking out on political topics in the wake of the NBA-China rift.
The NBA later released a statement saying the reporter should have been allowed to ask her question. It was the latest footnote in what's been a messy ordeal for the league, which reportedly has deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars in China.
Here are some recent developments:
Politicians from both major domestic parties called on the NBA to suspend all activities in China
Now, it's a party. @AOC, @tedcruz, @BenSasse and other politicians are setting up their own Tune Squad.- Sopan Deb (@SopanDeb) October 9, 2019
They've sent a letter to Adam Silver calling on the NBA to suspend all activities in China.
Basketball really is the great unifier. pic.twitter.com/19A7eRmQxp
The Chinese government canceled several community events that were scheduled around the NBA games in China
Chinese state broadcaster CCTV cancelled its broadcast of the two Nets-Lakers games.
In the statement, CCTV suggested that it was taking action in the wake of previous comments NBA commissioner Adam Silver made in support of Rockets GM Daryl Morey. Morey set off the controversy by posting a since-deleted tweet last week supporting protesters in Hong Kong.
"We're strongly dissatisfied and oppose Adam Silver's claim to support Morey's right to freedom of expression," the statement read. "We believe that any remarks that challenge national sovereignty and social stability are not within the scope of freedom of speech."
Morey's tweet in support of the protests in Hong Kong with the phrase: "Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong." He deleted the post and posted a tweet backtracking after Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta said that Houston does not take political positions.
The NBA has issued two statements on the matter. The first was criticized by several U.S. politicians, who admonished the NBA for its lack of support for Morey.
Nets owner Joe Tsai wrote in a Facebook post that the damage from Morey's tweet supporting the Hong Kong demonstrations "will take a long time to repair." Tsai, a co-founder of Alibaba, a massive Chinese ecommerce company, wrote that Morey's support of the Hong Kong protests touched on a 'third-rail' issue for China.
As noted above, the NBA has a significant amount of business in China and seems to, in part, be attempting to quell any ill feelings in the country that could threaten that business.
In his second statement, Silver pushed back on the idea that the league was motivated solely by business interests.
Here is the statement from Silver:
"I recognize our initial statement left people angered, confused or unclear on who we are or what the NBA stands for. Let me be more clear.
Over the last three decades, the NBA has developed a great affinity for the people of China. We have seen how basketball can be an important form of people-to-people exchange that deepens ties between the United States and China.
At the same time, we recognize that our two countries have different political systems and beliefs. And like many global brands, we bring our business to places with different political systems around the world.
But for those who question our motivation, this is about far more than growing our business.
Values of equality, respect and freedom of expression have long defined the NBA - and will continue to do so. As an American-based basketball league operating globally, among our greatest contributions are these values of the game.
In fact, one of the enduring strengths of the NBA is our diversity - of views, backgrounds, ethnicities, genders and religions. Twenty-five percent of NBA players were born outside of the United States and our colleagues work in league offices around the world, including in Beijing, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Taipei.
With that diversity comes the belief that whatever our differences, we respect and value each other; and, what we have in common, including a belief in the power of sports to make a difference, remains our bedrock principle.
It is inevitable that people around the world - including from America and China - will have different viewpoints over different issues. It is not the role of the NBA to adjudicate those differences.
However, the NBA will not put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees and team owners say or will not say on these issues. We simply could not operate that way.
Basketball runs deep in the hearts and minds of our two peoples. At a time when divides between nations grow deeper and wider, we believe sports can be a unifying force that focuses on what we have in common as human beings rather than our differences."
In a press conference earlier this week, Silver clarified to say that the league wasn't apologizing for Morey exercising his freedom of expression. He also said of the Chinese fans that are upset over Morey's tweet, "I regret that so many people are upset, including millions and millions of our fans."
Here is more information on the Hong Kong protests.
Here is more information about the NBA's business in China. In addition to CCTV pulling away from televising games, sponsors of the games have canceled their partnerships.