SHENZHEN, China — Saturday’s game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets is still scheduled to be played to conclude the 2019 China Games. However, the teams involved won’t be talking about it.
The Nets’ 114-111 victory over the Lakers in Shanghai on Thursday was able to happen only with a stipulation by the Chinese government, mandating that no media availability of any kind be held at the game and that NBA commissioner Adam Silver cancel his pregame news conference.
The league is adopting the same temporary policy for Saturday’s game in Shenzhen.
“We have decided not to hold media availability for our teams for the remainder of our trip in China,” the NBA announced in a statement Friday. “They have been placed into a complicated and unprecedented situation while abroad and we believe it would be unfair to ask them to address these matters in real time.”
The league is making this decision independent of Chinese authorities, sources told ESPN.
Nets and Lakers players are free to comment on the circumstances without NBA retribution, according to a league spokesman. However, this media policy was already discussed with players and representatives from the players’ association, according to a league source, so the motivation to operate outside of the league’s guidelines is negligible.
Saturday’s game will be played approximately 20 miles from Hong Kong, which could cause tensions to rise in relations between the NBA and China, considering that Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s since-deleted tweet supporting Hong Kong protesters sparked the unrest that exists between the sides.
Very few topics in 2019 are able to unite Ted Cruz and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
The NBA’s China controversy has managed to do so.
The two lawmakers representing polar opposite ends of the political spectrum represented in Congress co-signed a bipartisan letter Wednesday urging the NBA to suspend its activities in China until the country’s boycott of the league and the Houston Rockets ceases.
Bipartisan letter signed by 8 U.S. lawmakers
Along with Sen. Cruz, R-Tex and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY, Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-N.J., Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Sen Tom Cotton, R-Ark. and Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind. also signed the letter.
Concern over ‘self-censorship’ in the NBA
The letter expresses “deep concern” over statements from the NBA and the Rockets in response to China’s backlash over a tweet from Rockets general manager Daryl Morey supporting Hong Kong protesters in their conflict with the Chinese government.
“We are deeply concerned that individuals associated with the league may now engage in self-censorship that is inconsistent with American and the league’s stated values — and that this incident will only encourage further intimidation of American companies and persons by the Chinese government,” the letter reads.
The letter, which can be seen in whole here, continues to urge the NBA to “put our fundamental democratic rights ahead of profit,” a reference to the initial response from the Rockets and the NBA that condemned Morey’s tweet as “regrettable.”
NBA commissioner Adam Silver has since released a statement clarifying the league won’t regulate speech. The league continues to grapple with the situation as state-run media in China is cutting off access of NBA coverage to its 1.4 billion citizens.
Lawmakers’ suggested actions
The letter from Congress set out four steps it urged the NBA to take as the league navigates the controversy:
1. Build upon your statement of October 8 in which you said “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” by clarifying that (a) NBA players, staff, partners, and fans in the United States are American persons — as such, you support their right to express their opinions no matter the economic consequences, and (b) while the NBA will follow Chinese law in China, the Chinese Communist Party must respect that the association will abide by American laws and principles in its global operations, including by not conditioning employment on any guidelines of expression on international political issues.
2. Suspend NBA activities in China until government-controlled broadcasters and government-controlled commercial sponsors end their boycott of NBA activities and the selective treatment of the Houston Rockets, and emphasize that the association will stand unified in the face of future efforts by Chinese government-controlled entities to single out individual teams, players, or associates for boycotts or selective treatment.
3. Reevaluate the NBA’s training camp in Xinjiang, where up to a million Chinese citizens are held in concentration camps as part of a massive, government-run campaign of ethno-religious repression.
4. Clarify in internal association documents that public commentary on international human rights repression-including in Tibet, Hong Kong, and Xinjiang-falls within expected standards of public behavior and expression.
The NBA has a giant mess on its hands with no easy solution in sight and is now getting formal suggestions from the American government on how to solve it.