Chinese state media warns Adam Silver could face ‘retribution’; NBA and other sports leagues walk a difficult tightrope to business in China

Eric He | Yahoo Sports

NBA players and teams have left China, but the back-and-forth between the two sides has not stopped. On Saturday, Chinese state broadcaster CCTV issued a warning to commissioner Adam Silver.

According to the South China Morning Post, in a commentary, CCTV said Silver could face “retribution” for defaming China and supporting Daryl Morey, the Houston Rockets general manager who tweeted support for the Hong Kong protests and set off an international controversy between the NBA and China.

Earlier in the week, Silver had revealed at the Time 100 Health Summit in New York that China had asked the NBA to fire Morey over the tweet, which read “Fight For Freedom. Stand With Hong Kong.” The commissioner said that there was “no chance that’s happening.”

He added: “There’s no chance we’ll even discipline him.”

The Chinese government, through a spokesperson, denied that it made the request.

Silver is now clear on NBA’s position

Silver has clarified the NBA’s position in recent public statements after his initial comments ignited criticism in the United States. The league’s first statement called Morey’s tweet “inappropriate” and said the NBA was “extremely disappointed.”

Despite admitting that the financial losses as a result of Morey’s comments have already been “substantial” and “may continue to be fairly dramatic,” Silver said that he is willing to deal with the consequences and protect Morey’s freedom of expression.

This, no doubt, has infuriated China. In the editorial, CCTV claimed Silver “fabricated lies out of nothing and has sought to paint China as unforgiving” in order to “please some American politicians.” After Silver’s initial statement, politicians on both sides of the aisle criticized the league:

The CCTV editorial continued:

Silver has spared no effort to portray himself as a fighter for free speech and used freedom of speech as an excuse to cover for Morey, who voiced his support for the violent actors in Hong Kong. This has crossed the bottom line of the Chinese people.

Tension is far from over

While this appears like a bunch of hot air from the mouthpiece of the Chinese government, it is an indication that the two sides are far from reconciling. China stopped broadcasting preseason games and many sponsors have pulled out. Some games are back on the airwaves, but it might be awhile before the tension dies down.

At the Brooklyn Nets preseason game on Friday at the Barclays Center, hundreds of protestors filled the stands donning “Stand With Hong Kong” shirts. NBA players, coaches and executives have strayed from stating their opinions on the issue as to not fan the flames, with LeBron James’ panned remarks earlier in the week as an example.

Ironically, it was James’ criticism of Morey that created an uproar in the United States and led to people in Hong Kong burning his jersey.

Granted, issues surrounding a sports league that is worth billions of dollars with or without business in China seems paltry compared to what the Hong Kong protestors are fighting for. But as long as China keeps pushing back on the NBA over this issue, Adam Silver has a rocky road ahead.

For NBA and other sports leagues, a difficult tightrope to business in China

Mark Fainaru-Wada & Tonya Malinowski | ESPN

Every time the NBA-China scandal seems to be fading, another eruption underscores the increasingly difficult tightrope leagues, athletes and media companies walk as they do business with communist China.

Just in the past few days, LeBron James unleashed a furor from fans in both Hong Kong and the U.S. when he described Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey as “misinformed or not really educated” for his seven-word tweet that ignited the initial uproar. Then, NBA commissioner Adam Silver acknowledged his league had lost millions since Morey’s tweet and stated that the Chinese government had asked him to fire Morey. But the Chinese foreign ministry turned around and denied Silver’s claim, putting another round of pressure on the commissioner, just as normalcy seemed to be returning.

And on Friday night, hundreds of activists attended the Nets-Raptors preseason games wearing shirts and holding up signs in support of pro-Democracy protestors in Hong Kong.

The NBA has far and away the largest Western sports presence in China, but it’s hardly alone in having to navigate the challenges of doing business there. The NFL, Major League Baseball, the NHL, MMA, esports leagues — virtually every professional sports entity has worked to establish a foothold there, wooed by the country’s exploding economy and a population more than four times larger than that of the United States.

But according to experts, and as the NBA discovered swiftly, China’s burgeoning power has wrought a government even more committed to controlling the flow of information to its people and stifling dissent.

“Both the state and Chinese people are aware of the leverage they have over profit-seeking entities that are desperate to maintain access to the Chinese market,” Jonathan Sullivan, the Director of China Programs at the University of Nottingham Asia Research Institute, said by email. “Of course, it is the state that sets, adjudicates and enforces the rules. And if you transgress you can expect to be punished, at a time and method of the state’s choosing.”

Bill Bishop, a former media executive who has spent more than a decade living in China and analyzing the country, says the dynamics recently making headlines are not new.

“But the NBA events … made it much more of a mainstream issue,” he says. “In many ways, it’s harder for the leagues to keep their souls but also expand into China.”

Nevertheless, the NBA’s numbers in China reveal why leagues have persisted in trying to find their footing there. Plainly, there’s just so, so much money to be made.

Earlier this year, the NBA expanded its deal with internet behemoth Tencent to stream live games and make an array of content available to the company’s 1 billion users. The new contract, which begins next year, pays the NBA $300 million annually for the next five years — representing a threefold increase from the previous deal. (In 2016, ESPN and Tencent agreed to a five-year distribution agreement in which ESPN provided content to be shared across Tencent’s many platforms in China.)

The NBA has a long-standing contract with government-run CCTV to broadcast games live throughout the country, and while the financial specifics of that deal aren’t clear, the NBA has suggested the benefits are enormous.

“The value we generate from CCTV through sponsorships and all of our other initiatives — it’s hard to put a price on that,” David Shoemaker, then the CEO of NBA China, told Forbes in 2017.

Beyond its broadcast and social media deals, the NBA makes money in China from corporate sponsorships. There also are NBA training academies, NBA-themed play zones for kids in malls, NBA-themed “lifestyle complexes,” an NBA 2K League for gamers; an NBA youth development program, and more. On top of all that are the millions made by individual players through their own sponsorship contracts with Chinese companies.

Sports Business Journal recently estimated the NBA’s presence in China was worth $5 billion to the league.

“I don’t know a Chinese male that is not crazy about the NBA,” said Jim McGregor, a marketing expert who has lived in China for three decades and previously served as the chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in China. “I’m telling you, living on the ground here, I’m from Minnesota and every time I meet somebody here, they talk about the Timberwolves.”

This is exactly what every other league is chasing as they look to China.

Across the sports world, the message has become clear.

“The Chinese government has been very good about exporting their campaign of terror, if you will, to corporations, including sports entities, around the world,” says John Pomfret, a former Washington Post Beijing bureau chief and author of a book that traces the history of U.S.-China relations. “Everyone is afraid, and they’re afraid because the red line has been moving in a negative direction for a long time.”

If that wasn’t already clear to the NBA, it is now. After the Morey tweet, 11 of 13 Chinese companies that have sponsorship deals with the league temporarily halted them. Long-planned broadcasts of two exhibition games were canceled, and the broadcast partnerships, including with Tencent, appear in limbo. CCTV and Tencent have said they would not show or stream Rockets games, and Silver made his comment Thursday at the Time 100 Health Summit that the Chinese government had asked him to fire Morey.

“We said there’s no chance that’s happening,” Silver told ABC’s Robin Roberts. “There’s no chance we’ll even discipline him.”

He added, “Our games are not back on the air in China as we speak, and we’ll see what happens next.” All of this serves to underscore the push and pull league officials, coaches and players are facing as they try to weather the controversy.

“These players have a real issue if they’re very active speaking out in the U.S., but then when they come to China, they clam up,” says Bishop, the former media executive. “From a business perspective, that makes sense, but from a reputational perspective, that’s trouble.

“You have political systems that diverge, and the players are stuck in that divergence. Obviously they want to keep China’s money and the Chinese market, but they can’t do both and not look hypocritical.”

With the NBA regular season set to start Tuesday and no word yet on whether games will be streamed by Tencent or aired by CCTV, or whether any of the sponsors will return, the NBA’s status there is uncertain. There’s one school of thought that says basketball is simply too popular and important to China for the government to punish the league further. In the past couple of days, Tencent has returned to streaming at least two preseason games.

“Look, this is bad for the Chinese government right now,” says McGregor, the marketing expert who has written two books on doing business in China. “The NBA is nothing but good; it provides entertainment, keeps people busy, gives them something to talk and be passionate about, and if they’re doing all that, they’re not on the streets complaining about the government.”

At the same time, it’s unclear what, if anything, the league could or would do at this point if asked to mollify the Chinese.

Says Bishop, referencing the pingpong diplomacy that initiated a warming of relations between the countries back in the early 1970s: “One of the jokes going around is, U.S.-China engagement started with pingpong and ended with basketball.”

Producer William Weinbaum and researcher John Mastroberardino of ESPN’s Investigative and News Enterprise Unit contributed to this report.

Read the full version of this article here.

Hundreds of pro-Hong Kong protesters fill Barclays Center section for Nets preseason game; Kyrie Irving breaks silence about the issue

Ryan Young | Yahoo Sports

While it’s been several weeks since Ho8uston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey fired off a seven-word tweet that sparked an international feud, the NBA’s China controversy is still not going away.

Hundreds of protesters attended the Brooklyn Nets’ 123-107 preseason loss the Toronto Raptors on Friday night at the Barclays Center together, all wearing black “Stand With Hong Kong” shirts in the lower bowl of the arena.

The statement was clearly directed not just at the league as a whole, but at new Nets owner Joseph Tsai, too.

Tsai, who became the controlling owner of the team this summer, penned an open letter about the NBA’s situation with China shortly after Morey’s tweet in which he slammed Morey for his actions and described the pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong as a “separatist movement.” Tsai was born in Taiwan and co-founded the Alibaba Group — a massive e-commerce company based on China worth billions.

Tsai wasn’t alone in criticizing Morey, either. LeBron James spoke on the issue this week for the first time, saying he thought Morey was “misinformed” about the situation. He later tried to clarify his comments, saying he was talking about the “ramifications of the tweet,” not the actual substance of it.

Friday’s protest is just the latest in the NBA-China saga since the tweet earlier this month, which effectively erased the Rockets from China completely. NBA commissioner Adam Silver — whose first statement after the incident criticized Morey and called his actions “regrettable” — has since seemingly changed sides on the issue, especially after politicians from both sides of the isle came together to criticize him and the league for caving to communist nation.

Silver opened up about the issue again on Thursday in an interview with Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts, and confirmed that China asked him to fire Morey over the tweet. Silver said he shut that down and that “there’s no chance” the league disciplines Morey at all.

The incident has caused an immense loss of revenue already, too — not just for the Rockets, who have millions of Chinese fans, but for the league as a whole. Many teams have already explored scenarios where the salary cap drops 10 to 15 percent as a result of the incident. Silver said Thursday that the league is willing to cope with whatever happens next with China, even if the financial consequences “continue to be fairly dramatic.”

The NBA’s regular season is now just days away, and the league’s China controversy hasn’t disappeared. Based on the protest at the Barclays Center on Friday night, it’s not going to anytime soon, either.

Kyrie Irving on the Barclays Center protests

Kyrie Irving made his Barclays Center debut on Friday night, dropping a team-high 19 points in the loss while shooting 7-of-17 from the field.

Irving — while wearing a “protect kids, not guns” shirt — was asked about the protests at the arena after the game, something that would have been hard to miss from the floor.

“When you think about communities across the world, I think that a lot of people would stand for world peace,” Irving said, via ESPN’s Malika Andrews. “Government gets involved and impacts different communities in different ways. The reality is that as individuals, it’s our job to stand up for what we believe in.

“Now I understand that Hong Kong and China is dealing with their issues, respectively, but there’s enough oppression and stuff going on in America for me to not be involved in the community issues here as well. That’s one of those four pillars that goes in the black community, colored people here still in America. Like we’re still fighting for everyday freedom.

“When I think about Hong Kong and China, the people are in an uproar. For us as Americans to comment on it, us as African Americans or American Indians to comment on that, you’re connected nonetheless — especially when it impacts freedoms or world peace.

“For me, as an individual, I stand up for those four pillars. When they’re being conflicted, I can understand why protesters come to the game. America was built on protesting, built on slavery … But things happen all across the world and we’re just taking notice and social media puts it right in front of everyone’s faces. If you’re not thinking with a selfless attitude, then you can come out and kind of get yourself caught up in a few things politically that really impacts a certain group of people in an area of the world.”

Zion Williamson expected to miss opener and first weeks of regular season

Zion Williamson injury update: What we know about Zion’s injured knee

Nick Schwartz | USA TODAY SPORTS

The New Orleans Pelicans are set to kick off the season on national television next Tuesday with a game against the Toronto Raptors, but the new-look Pelicans will be without No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson for the start of the season. Williamson, whose NBA debut is one of the most anticipated in recent memory, is suffering from a knee injury that could keep him out for several weeks, according to reports.

What’s wrong with Zion’s knee?

On Thursday, the Pelicans announced that Williamson would miss the team’s final preseason game with “right knee soreness.”

According to the Pelicans, Williamson is not traveling with the team to the game, and will remain in New Orleans for testing.

Williamson missed time during the Summer League as well after suffering a knee bruise in his debut, but that injury was to his left knee.

How serious is the injury?

On Friday, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Williamson’s injury is more serious than a day-to-day issue, but is fortunately not expected to be severe. The Pelicans believe the injury occurred in their game against the Spurs on October 11th. Williamson scored a game-high 22 points in the Pelicans’ win.

The Pelicans have every reason to be cautious with Williamson, so it’s possible he could miss an extended period of the season as he recovers.

Michael Jordan applauds athletes for using their platform for activism, says his views have changed over time

Ben Weinrib | Yahoo Sports

Perhaps one of the most famous quotes attributed to Michael Jordan is his one about activism: “Republicans buy sneakers too.”

Whether or not he actually said that, Jordan made a concerted effort during his playing days to not rock the boat and give his political views. He carefully manicured his image to be as presentable to everyone as possible, especially as his brand took off.

But today’s NBA is far different, with the league’s best players and coaches offering impassioned thoughts on the topics de jour. That’s gotten the league in hot water with China and has cost the league millions upon millions of dollars, but Jordan said in an interview with TODAY’s Craig Melvin, which aired on Friday, that his thoughts on speaking out have changed with time.

“When I was playing, my vision and my tunnel vision was my craft,” Jordan said. “I was a professional basketball player and I tried to do that the best I could. Now I have more time to understand things around me, understand causes, understand issues and problems and commit my voice, my financial support, too.”

Notably, Jordan did not comment on the budding global crisis, in part because he said he has pending litigation since 2012 on the improper use of his name in China. But the Charlotte Hornets owner did note the opportunity players have to let their opinions have an impact.

“I think it’s great,” Jordan said. “If they understand the causes, obviously if they feel their voice matters, great. You know and I support that.”

Jordan has been more outspoken with time

Whatever shortcomings Jordan may have had as far as speaking his mind during his playing days, he’s making up for them now. No instance is clearer than his thoughts about police violence against African-Americans.

After a string of public officer-involved shootings in the summer of 2016, Jordan penned an op-ed in The Undefeated in which he felt like he could no longer keep his thoughts to himself, cautious thoughts be damned.

“As a proud American, a father who lost his own dad in a senseless act of violence, and a black man, I have been deeply troubled by the deaths of African-Americans at the hands of law enforcement and angered by the cowardly and hateful targeting and killing of police officers,” Jordan wrote. “I grieve with the families who have lost loved ones, as I know their pain all too well. … I know this country is better than that, and I can no longer stay silent.”

Jordan not only spoke with his words but with his wallet. In that piece, he announced that he was donating $1 million each to the Community-Police Relations and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. He’s also made seven-figure donations for multiple hurricane relief funds, his high school in Wilmington, N.C., and medical clinics in at-risk communities. His first of two clinics that he helped fund opened on Thursday.

Jordan voices support for college athletes to be paid

During the interview with Melvin, Jordan also offered his opinion on the NCAA, which has been a popular topic among players, especially after California passed a law that will allow student-athletes to make money off their likeness.

While he didn’t have an elegant solution, he is the latest former athlete to stand with players who are being profited off. Given that he is also in a position of authority in management, his words carry even more weight.

“I think they should be paid some portion of money so that their basic needs are taken care of. There’s some complexity there that I think the NCAA is going to have to figure out. Are they entitled to some compensation? Yes. What is that number? I don’t think anyone knows.”

Jordan played three years at North Carolina before going pro and launching his historic career.

NEW INTERVIEW: Andre Iguodala On Time w/ Warriors, Draymond Green vs KD, NBA/China & New Book

Former Golden State Warriors guard Andre Iguodala sits down with Ebro in the Morning for an open conversation about his time with the Warriors, being traded, Michael Jordan, his thoughts on the Kevin Durant vs Draymond Green saga, playing with Allen Iverson, Steve Kerr, the NBA/China saga, USA basketball, life after his career is over, his interest in tech, and more! His new book ‘The Sixth Man: A Memoir’ is out now.

Raptors fans preparing to give away thousands of pro-Hong Kong T-shirts at home opener

Chase Kell | Yahoo Sports

As the NBA continues to deal with the fallout from Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey wading into the protests in Hong Kong, basketball fans in Toronto are preparing to make a statement at the Raptors home opener next week.

A group of Canadian fans in support of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement have raised more than $34,000 to make and distribute as many as 7,000 T shirts to Raptors fans taking in the team’s season opener Tuesday Oct. 22 vs. the New Orleans Pelicans. The group had set up a GoFundMe page earlier in the week in the hopes of procuring enough money to make 5,000 shirts.

“As you may know by now, China is trying to censor the entire NBA because Houston Rockets’ General Manager Daryl Morey tweeted a ‘Fight for Freedom, Stand with Hong Kong’ photo to support Hong Kong,” reads the GoFundMe page.

“It was a productive Tuesday after the long weekend, and we have finalized the quantity of T Shirt production! We are able to make 7,000 T shirts, which is 2,000 more than our original target! We will cover 35% instead of 25% of the audience! That’s 1/3 of the arena!”

The Raptors are not at all involved with the giveaway, nor has the organization officially endorsed it in any way. But as tensions continue to flare between China and the special administrative region of Hong Kong, this group is looking to make a statement north of the border.

“Canada is actually another battleground to fight against China,” reads the GoFundMe campaign, which was created by Mimi Lee, the organizer of Toronto’s HongKongers Action Group.

“We may have a new government by the time this NBA match happens. Showing the Canadian government how much we stand with Hong Kong will definitely set a tone on the China policy for the new administration.”

Draymond Green says no one blames the ‘sh-tty’ franchises’ when a draft pick busts

Chris Cwik | Yahoo Sports

Golden State Warriors big man Draymond Green has a take about NBA draft busts: It’s not their fault. While showing support for teammate Marquese Chriss, Green suggested teams should get more blame when a highly drafted player becomes a bust.

Green used more colorful language when talking about the issue.

Here’s Green’s full answer when he was asked about Chriss:

“He seems like he’s turning the corner. But I think he’s been in some pretty tough situations. No one ever blames the situation though, it’s always the kid. No one ever blames the s—– franchises. They just always want to blame the kid. It’s not always the kid’s fault.”

Chriss, 22, was the No. 8 overall pick in the 2016 NBA draft. He was selected by the Sacramento Kings, but immediately traded to the Phoenix Suns. Chriss failed to put up strong numbers in Phoenix. He averaged just 8.5 points per game in his two seasons with the team. He split time between the Houston Rockets and Cleveland Cavaliers last season, and failed to establish himself in either spot.

After three rough years, Chriss signed with the Warriors in the offseason. He’s emerged as a useful contributor in four games this preseason, and could open the regular season with the Warriors.

Green may have been blunt — and taken a massive shot at the Suns — with his assessment. But he’s not wrong. Organizations play a big role in whether players are successful. It often falls on those organizations to develop those players, and find ways to get them to improve and adjust to the NBA. Sure, sometimes players fail because they don’t have the talent, but that’s not always the case. Some players have plenty of talent but fail to reach their potential due to the situation around them.

It remains to be seen where Chriss falls on that scale. While he’s looked better this preseason, it’s still just four games. If Chriss can take those gains into the regular season and become a steady part of the Warriors’ rotation, the Suns are going to look even worse for how they handled Chriss.

Emotional Michael Jordan unveils first of two medical clinics in Charlotte

Associated Press

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — An emotional Michael Jordan unveiled the first of two medical clinics he and his family funded in Charlotte, North Carolina, that will provide care to underprivileged members of the community.

The six-time NBA champion and Hornets owner was on hand Thursday for the grand opening of the $7 million Novant Health Michael Jordan Family Medical Clinic. Tears streamed down Jordan’s cheeks as he said, “this is a very emotional thing for me to be able to give back to a community that has supported me over the years.”

The clinic, located in a lower-income section of the city, will provide vital access to primary and preventive care to individuals in the community, including those who are uninsured or underinsured.

Jordan vowed to do more, saying “this is just the start of a battle of being able to touch as many people as we can.”

Jordan first announced the $7 million gift in 2017.

Harrison Barnes to pay for funeral for Atatiana Jefferson, woman fatally shot in home by police officer

Torrey Hart | Yahoo Sports

Sacramento Kings forward Harrison Barnes, who played two-and-a-half seasons for the Dallas Mavericks spanning 2016-19, will pay for more than half of the funeral services for Atatiana Jefferson, Fox 4 Forth Worth reported Thursday. The Dallas Morning news reported that the Philadelphia Eagles’ Malik Jackson will pay for the remainder.

Jefferson, 28, was shot and killed in her home by Fort Worth police officer Aaron Dean on Saturday while watching her young nephew.

Read at HHCP: Ft. Worth Officer Arrested, Charged With Murder In Killing Of Atatiana Jefferson; Neighbor Who Called Police For Simple ‘Welfare Check’ Feels ‘Shaken’, Guilty and Regretful

The shooting occurred after a concerned neighbor called the non-emergency police line to ask for a welfare check, because Jefferson’s door was open, which he thought was unusual. Dean arrived with another officer, and walked the perimeter of the house, looking in through glass doors without announcing his presence.

According to investigators, when he got to a back window, Dean saw someone inside the home and said “Put your hands up. Show me your hands,” and then immediately fired a shot.

Dean was arrested and charged with murder that night and has since been released on a $200,000 bond.

Barnes has a history of giving back to the North Texas community. In 2018, Barnes, his wife and his mother put together and gave out Thanksgiving meals to dozens of South Dallas families. He also sponsored the renovation of two basketball courts at the Mesquite Boys & Girls Club, as well as hosted youth basketball camps and put on two back-to-school shopping events. He hosted additional youth events throughout his time in Dallas.

Lee Merritt, the attorney representing Jefferson’s family, told the Dallas Morning News that the athletes “reached out to him about paying for the funeral and didn’t want to make a big to-do about their generosity.”

The wake for Jefferson is scheduled for Friday night, according to Fox 4, with funeral services scheduled for Saturday afternoon. Both will be held at Potter’s House of Dallas, a megachurch with a capacity of about 8,000.

Adam Silver: China asked for Daryl Morey to be fired over pro-Hong Kong tweet; financial losses to NBA ‘already substantial’

Jack Baer | Yahoo Sports

The discourse over the NBA’s relationship with China created by a single pro-Hong Kong tweet from Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey continues to rage, but league commissioner Adam Silver has already started to reflect on the events that occurred immediately after Morey hit that fateful “Tweet” button.

During an interview with Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts at the Time 100 Health Summit on Thursday, Silver confirmed that the country’s government and businesses asked that Morey be fired for the since-deleted tweet.

Silver said the league shut down any possibility of that, or any other discipline, happening:

“We made clear that we were being asked to fire him, by the Chinese government, by the parties we dealt with, government and business,” Silver said. “We said there’s no chance that’s happening. There’s no chance we’ll even discipline him.”

The obvious consequence of the NBA refusing to discipline Morey was that what happened to the Rockets — effectively being erased from a country in which it had millions of fans — could go league-wide. Multiple teams are already exploring what they could do in a scenario where the league’s salary cap drops 10 to 15 percent, representing hundreds of millions lost in for the entire league in annual revenue.

Silver said the league is already seeing those consequences with game broadcasts still suspended in China, but also noted the league is willing to cope with whatever happens next:

Silver said the league is “not only willing” to cope with losses of millions in revenues, “but we are. The losses have already been substantial. Our games are not back on the air in China as we speak, and we’ll see what happens next.”

“I don’t know where we go from here,” said Silver in his first U.S. interview about the league’s emerging conflict with China since he returned home from the country. “The financial consequences have been and may continue to be fairly dramatic.”

Funnily enough, had Silver taken this stance — publicly affirming Morey will not be disciplined, saying the league will deal with China’s backlash but will not apologize — in the days immediately after the tweet, he might have saved the NBA from the domestic backlash it experienced over the matter.

The NBA’s initial statement criticized Morey’s tweet, which only said “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong,” as “regrettable” and having “deeply offended” Chinese fans. It evaluated the tweet in an even harsher light in a statement released in Mandarin. That first statement is what caused politicians on both sides of the aisle to condemn the league for acquiescing to an authoritarian government to preserve revenue.

Silver released a second statement days later that did a better job of not throwing Morey under the bus, but the narrative around the league’s treatment of China had already formed.

Players and coaches were asked about the matter and held off from supporting Morey to avoid a similar backlash, just as the NBA had done. And then LeBron James took it a step forward and criticized Morey for not considering the harm certain people could have experienced “not only financially but physically, emotionally, spiritually.”

However, Silver contended Thursday that he didn’t believe the league ever acquiesced to China:

Silver said that the media coverage of the NBA’s response to Morey’s tweet “frankly was confusing to me when I got home [from China]. Only because I had thought we’d taken a principled position. I thought we hadn’t so-called acquiesced to the Chinese.”

The NBA’s initial statement last week used the word “regrettable,” which Silver emphasized was describing the reaction of Chinese government officials, business executives and NBA fans in China — not the content of Morey’s tweet itself. “Maybe I was trying too hard to be a diplomat,” Silver said. “I didn’t see it as my role as the commissioner of the NBA to weigh in on the substance of the protest, but to say here’s this platform” for free expression.

Regarding Silver’s point of a principled position, treating Morey’s tweet as something regrettable and offensive when it was a simple show of support for a pro-democracy protest against a government with several reported human rights abuses is absolutely what China wanted. The country’s government clearly preferred Morey be fired to show even speaking out against China can carry consequences overseas, but the entire league declining to support Morey’s relatively tame statement was enough to show the country’s influence.

We’ll see if the NBA’s reputation comes back from that.