Did China overplay its hand in trying to silence NBA? Insider says league ‘probably has more leverage here than it realizes.’

Dan Wetzel | Yahoo Sports

Protests in Hong Kong against a new law allowing extradition to mainland China that dissidents believe is anti-democratic and will undermine autonomy from China have been relentless and ongoing since March. They’ve included airport shutdowns, massive gatherings in the streets each weekend and occasional outbursts of violence.

During all that time, many in the United States, as well as around the world, paid little to no attention to the situation.

Then Daryl Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets, retweeted a simple message of support to Hong Kong last Friday to his 200,000 followers. Even though Twitter is banned in China, the communist government there went wild with an oversized reaction.

Certain business deals with the Rockets and the NBA were canceled, games were pulled off television and no one is sure if two exhibition contests scheduled in China this week will even be allowed to take place.

As a result … Hong Kong is in the news everywhere, reaching vast and new audiences. That includes, perhaps, people inside information-controlled mainland China.

Which makes it fair to wonder: Did China, in trying to wipe out a molehill, turn this into a mountain?

“I think there is a sense that the Chinese government has overplayed their hand and is now in an untenable position,” William Nee, a Hong Kong-based business and human rights analyst for Amnesty International, told Yahoo Sports. “It was one mild tweet.”

That one mild tweet turned part of the world’s attention on not just the protests, but on how the Chinese government controls its media, its business partners (including foreign governments) and the life of its citizens — all the way down to watching a simple basketball game.

“It’s exposed China to people all over the world in a very real and easy to understand way,” Nee said.

After a poorly worded, and hypocritical, initial response from the NBA that called Morey’s retweet “regrettable”, the league has appeared to find its footing. It has repeatedly said, at least publicly, that it supports its employees right to free expression.

“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,” commission Adam Silver said in a statement. “We simply could not operate that way.”

China, meanwhile, has responded by continuing to push the NBA away from its citizens.

That’s a potentially big business hit for the league, which is incredibly popular among China’s 1.4 billion citizens. About as many Chinese (around 20 million) watch NBA Finals games live (despite a drastic time difference) as Americans. The NBA is a billion-dollar business in China and that doesn’t count ancillary deals such as shoe or soft drink companies that use star players as endorsers.

Yet China has something to lose here also. It is deathly afraid that comments on the Hong Kong protests — which it deems a “separatist movement” rather than a “pro-democracy movement” — moving from the relatively anonymous general manager to mega-star players such as LeBron James, Stephen Curry or James Harden.

Like any totalitarian regime, or good bully, it beat up on the weakest to scare the biggest and then used its state-run media to cheer it on and justify it.

Yet it didn’t appear that a week ago Hong Kong was even on the radar of any NBA players. Well, it is now. Whether they take up the cause or not is their business, but they are certainly aware of it.

Then there is this: Can China actually pull NBA games off local television permanently? It’s one thing to cancel a couple of preseason games, but the entire season or seasons?

“They could do it,” Nee said. “But given the popularity of the NBA, it would be a very unpopular decision. It would probably result in fans trying to follow the league online or trying to get VPNs (virtual private networks for internet access) to watch. And the government doesn’t want VPNs because then citizens can get over the firewall.

“The NBA is a different thing for the government to deal with. The people of China know and like it. The NBA probably has more leverage here than it realizes.”

The Chinese can limit or stop a lot of information, but if star players — or celebrities in any walk of life who are now clued in on this — start, say, writing “Hong Kong” on their shoes or relentlessly supporting the protests, that can break through the wall. If those same stars are banned, or limited, from doing business in China, then they may be even more motivated to do it.

Thus far, players have been fairly quiet. Even usually outspoken Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr has sat it out. That could change at any moment though, especially once the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets, currently sitting in Shanghai wondering if they will play, are safe at home. That the NBA is watched globally — and has so many non-American stars who might also weigh in — just furthers its power.

“The Chinese government is generally run by old, stodgy bureaucrats who really don’t understand public relations,” Nee said. “And NBA fans in China tend to be younger and more cosmopolitan. A lot of those people would look at this and not agree with the government. Canceling the NBA is really difficult.”

As Silver visits Shanghai seeking a solution to a complex problem, no one is quite certain what will happen next. The NBA knows it can’t publicly fold to the Chinese without a backlash elsewhere, especially in its most important market, America. China, meanwhile, keeps pushing.

Meanwhile, everyone is talking about Hong Kong, which was what the communists don’t want and were trying to prevent until they turned one mild tweet into some kind of riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.

Durant: Knicks ‘not as cool’ with younger players

ESPN

Kevin Durant said Tuesday that the New York Knicks can’t rely on their “brand” to land the best players, many of whom don’t even remember the franchise being good.

“I think a lot of fans look at the Knicks as a brand and expect these younger players in their lifetime don’t remember the Knicks being good,” Durant said Tuesday in an in-studio interview with Hot 97 in New York. “I’ve seen the Knicks in the Finals, but kids coming up after me didn’t see that. So that whole brand of the Knicks is not as cool as let’s say the Golden State Warriors, or even the Lakers or the Nets now.

“You know what I’m saying; the cool thing now is not the Knicks.”

FULL INTERVIEW:

Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant showed up to Ebro in the Morning to have a conversation on why he decided to sign with the team, if he ever considered playing for the Knicks or his hometown Washington Wizards, his time with the Golden State Warriors, whether he feels he returned too early from injury and more. He also gave us an update on his health, and whether Nets fans can expect him to get on the court. Before leaving, he named his top 5 rappers right now & who he feels deserves more of the spotlight.

The speculation during last season was that the Knicks would make a full-court press to sign Durant once he became a free agent, but he instead signed a multiyear contract with the Brooklyn Nets in free agency.

On Tuesday, Durant said he didn’t seriously consider the Knicks in free agency.

“I thought about it, yeah, just a thought. But I didn’t really do any full analysis on the Knicks,” the 2013-14 NBA MVP and two-time NBA Finals MVP said.

The Nets have said they are not planning on the 10-time All-Star playing this season as he recovers from the ruptured Achilles he suffered in the NBA Finals with the Warriors.

Chinese TV cancels NBA game broadcasts; Adam Silver reacts

Adam Silver reacts as Chinese TV cancels NBA game broadcasts

ESPN | Associated Press

TOKYO — NBA commissioner Adam Silver said he’s still planning to go to China on Wednesday in advance of preseason games there between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Brooklyn Nets later in the week, even after China’s state broadcaster canceled plans to air the games.

Silver went so far as to say that he and the league are “apologetic” over the outcome and reaction that followed Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s tweet showing support for protesters in Hong Kong, but he noted that “we are not apologizing for Daryl exercising his freedom of expression.”

See: China suspends relationship with Houston Rockets after GM tweets support for Hong Kong protests

“Daryl Morey, as general manager of the Houston Rockets, enjoys that right as one of our employees,” Silver said. “What I also tried to suggest is that I understand there are consequences from his freedom of speech and we will have to live with those consequences.”

He added that he “regrets” how so many Chinese people and NBA fans were upset by the now-deleted tweet.

Silver said it would be appropriate for people involved with the league “to be sensitive” to different cultures when tweeting or communicating. He spoke in Tokyo before a preseason game between the NBA champion Toronto Raptors and Rockets.

His comments came as Chinese state broadcaster CCTV said it will no longer air two NBA preseason games set to be played in the country.

CCTV is also reviewing all its cooperation and exchanges involving the NBA, it said in a statement posted to CCTV Sports’ official social media account.

The broadcaster indicated the decision was prompted by earlier remarks Silver made in Japan.

“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.”

Chinese smartphone maker Vivo joined other businesses in saying Tuesday that it will suspend its business with the NBA over Morey’s comments and the NBA’s reaction. Vivo had been a sponsor for the Lakers-Nets games in China.

Silver is going to Shanghai on Wednesday and said he hopes to meet with officials, including Chinese Basketball Association president Yao Ming, and some of the league’s business partners there in an effort to find some common ground. He said he hopes Chinese officials and fans look at the totality of the impact of the three-decade-plus relationship between the league and their country, and urged them to see his response while acknowledging there are political differences between the countries.

“I’m sympathetic to our interests here and our partners that are upset,” Silver said. “I don’t think it’s inconsistent on one hand to be sympathetic to them and at the same time stand by our principles.”

Silver said the NBA did not expect CCTV to cancel plans to air the Lakers-Nets games.

UPDATE: Lakers’ NBA Cares event in Shanghai canceled

“But if those are the consequences of us adhering to our values, I still feel it’s very, very important to adhere to those values,” Silver said.

A ceremonial NBA Cares event for an educational center in Shanghai with the Nets was canceled Tuesday, though the Nets participated in other events as scheduled. The Lakers were arriving there Tuesday. Silver said NBA Cares would still honor its bigger mission surrounding that event, including providing a gift of new computers.

First Take | Daryl Morey stupid creates issues NBA’s relationship with China – Stephen A. furious…

The rift between China and the NBA started late last week when Morey posted a tweet with an image that read: “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.” He later deleted the post and tweeted an apology after Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta publicly clarified the team does not take political positions.

The strong reactions to Morey’s tweet underscore China’s sensitivity about foreign attitudes toward the ongoing Hong Kong protests that have grown into violence in the semi-autonomous territory. China has accused foreign parties in the United States and elsewhere of encouraging the demonstrations.

The protests were sparked by a proposed extradition law that would have allowed suspects to be sent to China to face trial. Activists saw that as a threat to the legal rights that Hong Kong residents have under the current “one country, two systems” framework.

On Tuesday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the public has already expressed its position.

“How can it be possible to carry out exchanges and cooperation with China without knowing China’s public opinion?” Geng said. “NBA’s cooperation with China has been going on for quite a long time, so for what should be said and what should be done, they know best.”

But Silver said the league “will not put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees and team owners say or will not say on these issues.”

Silver’s statement was sent out shortly before he was to hold a news conference in Tokyo.

Silver said, “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.”

Silver also responded to those criticizing the league’s approach over the past several days, including some U.S. lawmakers who have called for the league to take action — some even suggesting the league should cancel its games in China.

“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,” Silver said. “As an American-based basketball league operating globally, among our greatest contributions are these values of the game.”

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.