The NBA’s opening night games on Tuesday were reportedly nixed from Chinese state television amid the ongoing controversy between the league and foreign country.
CCTV has historically televised the league’s opening games. But they pulled all NBA broadcasts in response to the Oct. 4 tweet by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, where the executive expressed support for the Hong Kong protesters, ESPN reported.
Meanwhile, Tencent, the league’s Chinese-based streaming partner, limited its schedule to just one game Tuesday night — the Los Angeles Lakers vs. Los Angeles Clippers.
The league over the summer cut a deal with Tencet, extending streaming rights to the company for five more years at an estimated cost of $1.5 billion, the site said.
Shaquille O’Neal on Tuesday came to the defense of Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey, who set off a firestorm between the NBA and China earlier this month when he tweeted his support for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.
“One of our best values here in America is free speech — we’re allowed to say what we want to say and we are allowed to speak out on injustices and that’s just how it goes and if people don’t understand that that’s something they have to deal with,” Shaq said on TNT’s pregame show on opening night of the NBA season.
“It was unfortunate for both parties, and you’ve got people speaking out about something they don’t know what they’re talking about,” the four-time NBA champion continued. “Daryl Morey was right — whenever you see something going on anywhere in the world, you should have the right to say, ‘That’s not right.'”
Morey tweeted in support of the anti-government protesters on October 4, saying, “Fight for Freedom, Stand with Hong Kong.” As a result, several Chinese partners cut ties with the NBA, its largest broadcaster refused to air preseason games taking place in the country and the government called for Morey to be fired.
But Commissioner Adam Silver said the league supports free speech and there was “no chance” that the league would discipline Morey over his tweet. Meanwhile, Morey has not addressed the controversy since several tweets attempting to clarify his position on the protests.
Several of the league’s biggest stars, including LeBron James and James Harden, attempted to soften the blow. James called Morey’s comment “misinformed,” while Harden apologized for the tweet, saying, “We apologize. We love China. We love playing there.”
It’s been a difficult month for the NBA and commissioner Adam Silver, who has been dealing with the never-ending fallout from the NBA’s China situation. Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey’s now-deleted tweet supporting democracy in Hong Kong has had far-reaching effects, with both the NBA’s bottom line and LeBron James’ image taking a hit.
James’ response to Morey’s tweet wasn’t well received, with him toeing the NBA line and calling it “misinformed,” and later clarifying that he was upset by the timing of Morey’s tweet. But in an appearance on ESPN’s “Get Up” on Monday morning, Silver defended James’ response, as well as the decision many players have made to stay silent on the issue. Via Bleacher Report:
“I think that these players, I mean, take LeBron who has an incredible track record of doing things that have changed people’s lives in the United States to be asked to comment on a difficult foreign issue is, I think, again there’s free expression and he should say how he feels. But, freedom of speech also means the freedom not to speak. And I’ve often said to players about issues here at home: If it’s something you don’t know about and you don’t feel comfortable responding, that’s OK as well. So, it’s been no-win for a lot of those players, so I’m very sympathetic.”
Silver’s right in that this is a no-win for the players. Those who stay quiet are criticized for doing so, and those who don’t are criticized for either toeing the NBA line or commenting on a complex international situation. Players have been thrust into the middle of a kerfuffle they didn’t ask for, one that has immense financial ramifications for the NBA and them by extension. James and other players had appearances canceled in China over Morey’s tweet, and lost out on endorsements geared toward the Chinese market.
Even though the regular season begins on Tuesday, the NBA-China controversy doesn’t seem like it’s going to die down anytime soon. Over the weekend, Chinese state television issued a warning to Silver that he could face “retribution” for defending Morey and defaming China. Last week, Silver revealed that China had demanded that Morey be fired, which Silver would not do. In fact, he said that Morey wouldn’t even be fined for his tweet.
“This has been a very difficult moment between the NBA and China,” Silver said on ESPN. “My belief is … we will get back on track. People need to step back. Everybody has made their points. There is no secret here about what’s going on in China. … Basketball diplomacy and engagement is positive. That’s what we’re turning back to.”
Charles Barkley defends LeBron James’ China stance: ‘He had to look out for his business’
For that, LeBron’s been widely and sharply criticized.
But that criticism isn’t coming from NBA circles as the league maintains its united front in the mess that pits its significant financial stakes in China against the ability to speak freely on the plight of the people of Hong Kong.
To the surprise of nobody, Barkley — who is still on Nike’s payroll — was in James’ corner.
“I thought everybody was really unfair to LeBron,” Barkley said. “Everybody does business in China. Every American company does business in China. Why should LeBron not be able to protect his financial interests — and the NBA and Nike?”
When pressed on James declining to take a stance on human rights issues for people across the world while he regularly speaks freely on social justice issues, Barkley defended James’ right to choose his battles.
“Everybody don’t have to pick every battle to fight,” Barkley said. “LeBron is passionate about the things he wants to be passionate about. We don’t get to tell him what we want him to talk about.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
There’s a lot of argle-bargle in LeBron’s clean-up statements from Tuesday, and more than a little smarm about his I Promise School in Akron, but the gist is this: He resents being put in a position where he has to answer questions about a thorny political situation halfway around the world, and would very much prefer to move off the topic and back to standard basketball stuff.
The point LeBron seems to want to make, more than any other, is that Morey wasn’t sufficiently invested in the conflict between Hong Kong protesters and the authoritarian Chinese government to call down this level of chaos on the entire league and everyone in it. It’s a line of criticism Morey invited with his own weak-ass apology, when he said he’d merely voiced “one thought, based on one interpretation, of one complicated event,” and had subsequently benefited from the opportunity “to hear and consider other perspectives.” The implication is that Morey both underestimated the backlash his tweet would receive from a wildly defensive China, and lacked a complete understanding of the various perspectives involved. Morey’s backpedaling seems to have formed the basis for players’ concerns that there’d be stiff penalties from the league for such careless commentary from one of their own. LeBron hit Adam Silver with exactly this line of questioning during an emergency meeting in China, according to a report from ESPN’s Dave McMenamin:
His question was related to Morey — and the commissioner’s handling of the Rockets’ GM. James, to paraphrase, told Silver he knew that if a player caused the same type of uproar from something he said or tweeted, the player wouldn’t be able to skate on it. There would be some type of repercussion. So, James wanted to know, what was Silver going to do about it in Morey’s case?
It’s not entirely fair that NBA players are being asked to clean up an international public relations mess caused by an executive, while Silver, the league’s owners, and Morey himself mostly duck the heat. And every time a player tries to thread the needle required by the league’s queasy business interests—maintaining the league’s popular progressive sheen stateside while securing future basketball income by softening the fury of a vengeful Chinese government—they take criticism from either side or both, over a conflict most of them probably don’t understand too well. For every fair criticism of LeBron or James Harden over what amounts to disavowing a colleague for having an inconvenient opinion about something outside of their comfort zone, there are 400 dipshit MAGA ghouls leaping quite a bit too eagerly to call them communists.
There was no getting this exactly right—according to McMenamin, even after Silver resolved to keep those players who were on the ground in China away from the media, the Chinese government swooped in and canceled pre- and post-game media availability, which left open the possibility that players might have otherwise had something to say on the matter. While those who’d happily bought the idea of NBA players as progressive champions were waiting for courageous, thoughtful defenses of Morey’s right to speak his mind, the players overseas were mostly stewing over having to answer to a het-up foreign press for someone else’s tweet.
Turns out, most of the players do not have much to say about the tug of war over Hong Kong’s autonomy, LeBron included. But there’s an important difference between having nothing to say about Chinese authoritarianism and the nuances of Hong Kong’s limited home-rule, versus reflexively condemning someone who does have something to say on the matter, because those comments fuck with your wallet.
LeBron legitimately has had thoughtful or noteworthy things to say about matters close to home, and if he lacks even a layman’s understanding of the situation between Hong Kong and China, he has that in common with probably 100 million or more fellow Americans. It’s fine to have no comment; holding your tongue when you don’t feel confident in your grasp of the facts is fine.
Restraint is good. More people should try it.
But where LeBron failed Monday, and where he has continued to fail, is in lazily joining up with the enforcement arm of China’s campaign against critical speech, out of nothing more than knee-jerk self-interest.
If it’s true that Morey didn’t consider enough the likely consequences of banging out a dipshit slogan 10 days ago, then it’s also true that LeBron didn’t consider enough the bedfellow he was taking when he finally came down the mountain.
For whatever his faults may be (not being on your favorite team, hubris, brazenly studying the room without trying to hide it, etc.), LeBron James has consistently been a voice of progressive reason, but he has also been relentlessly acquisitive. Thus, no one ought to be nearly so surprised, shocked, or offended that he wanted to protect any personal financial impact from the NBA’s China Syndrome. After all, he may want to own a franchise someday, and besides, all the other principals were trying to protect their own as well.
This is in direct opposition to the Chinese government, which has held, currently hold and will continue to hold all the cards here. In a room full of gamblers, China is the house.
(To those who want a strident defense of the interests of the Hong Kong protestors here, please take it as implied. Geopolitics aren’t nearly so complicated if you view the world’s issues as matters of right or wrong based on even the most elemental moral and ethical base.)
Enter money and power, though, and it all goes to hell, because while the species can do the moral and ethical thing, it always seem to prefer the cash and the big chair because, well, it’s easier. In this case, the NBA wants access to China’s population and the money and influence that reasonably should flow from same, but to get it, the league has been forced to acknowledge that the Chinese supply includes Chinese demands. That’s how Daryl Morey got caught in a trap nobody foresaw—expressing mild indignation about the plight of pro-Democracy protestors and getting the back of everyone’s hand in a mad scramble to keep the Chinese from closing their borders to the basketball and the money that basketball can generate.
From the moment Morey tweeted out his message of support for the Hong Kong protestors, everyone not in the Chinese government scrambled to figure out how they could have a bad situation both ways. Adam Silver wanted to look like the progressive commissioner but worked for 30 billionaires who could give zero rats’ hindquarters about progressive causes. Tilman Fertitta wanted to defend Morey while shaming him publicly. Morey wanted to express his feelings while apologizing for expressing his feelings. Brooklyn owner Joe Tsai wanted a piece of the Chinese business that Fertitta was benefiting from while trying not to seem like he wanted the business. The players who met with Silver wanted to know why they had to explain the league’s position without having any say in the league’s position, and then wanted to know if there was a player who could jeopardize the business as they perceived Morey had and not be fired.
Enter LeBron, who happens to be the answer to that last question.
James’s choice of the word “misinformed” in reference to Morey has been the firing point, but it’s the one thing that Morey isn’t. He understood enough about the Hong Kong problem because he has friends who live there, and tweeted in support of their concerns. This doesn’t make him Johnny Politics, but he gets the issue more than your average league employee.
The word James needed to employ was “naive,” because everyone has been naive on this from the jump. The reality is that there is no real halfway point between being progressive and being pragmatic when it comes to billions of dollars today and in the future unless one also employs the word “facile,” which is how everyone has tried to play this, including James. They’ve taken simple chess and tried to create a draw in which they look principled and obedient simultaneously because they view that as the only way to save the money, which is naive. And, we should add, transparently yet blandly cynical. They can’t take both sides simultaneously because the two positions are in direct opposition to each other. James picked a side, and that side was rooted in self-interest.
LeBron did business, and ethics and progress will have to wait. The player everyone (unsoundly) viewed as the soundest progressive in the most progressive company chose the path of less resistance because pragmatism is what you do when the right thing may cause discomfort.
The Chinese government is not naive. It requires silence on Chinese political choices from its business partners as though they were Chinese citizens, and the NBA has offered just that. It has gagged its employees, or made it clear that speaking out is going to have consequences, so James taking the company line is actually going to be viewed as acceptable speech by the power-drivers with whom he will be spending his post-basketball career. He did what everyone in the NBA is trying to do: have enough from all sides to conflate self-interest and statesmanship.
He will fail, because this is a moment that forces a choice.
Protestors in Hong Kong have burned LeBron James jerseys after the NBA star said that freedom of speech can lead to “a lot of negative”.
James made his comments after the fallout between the NBA and China over the anti-government protests in Hong Kong. The lucrative relationship between the league and China has been damaged since the Houston Rockets general manager, Daryl Morey, tweeted in support of the protestors earlier this month. Morey subsequently deleted the tweet but China has threatened to cut ties with the NBA, and some Chinese companies have backed out of broadcasts and sponsorship deals.
On Tuesday, a group of around 200 gathered on courts amid Hong Kong’s high-rise buildings, chanting support for Morey and obscene epithets about James. One person threw a ball at a photo of James while others burned and trampled on jerseys bearing his name.
“People are angry,” said James Lo, a web designer who runs a Hong Kong basketball fan page on Facebook. He said he’s already received a video from a protester that showed him burning a No 23 jersey bearing James’ name.
On Monday, James was asked about the strained relationship between the NBA and China. “I don’t want to get into a … feud with Daryl but I believe he wasn’t educated about the situation at hand and he spoke,” James said. “Just be careful what we tweet … even though, yes, we do have freedom of speech. But there can be a lot of negative that comes with that too.” James later said he meant Morey wasn’t educated on the repercussions of the tweet rather than the situation in Hong Kong. Law enforcement have used live ammunition on civilians after months of demonstrations in Hong Kong.
Lo said James’s comments had infuriated many in Hong Kong. “Students, they come out like every weekend,” said Lo. “They’ve got tear gassed and then they got gun-shot, like every weekend. Police beating students and then innocent people, like every day. And then he just comes up with something [like] that. We just can’t accept that.”
NBA players weren’t made available before or after recent pre-season games in China, which CCTV didn’t broadcast, and several companies and state-run offices reportedly severed their ties with the NBA over Morey’s tweet and the league’s response to it.
Protesters said James was guilty of double standards, because he has used his influence as a star athlete to promote social causes in the United States. “Please remember, all NBA players, what you said before: ‘Black lives matter.’ Hong Kong lives also matter!” one of the protesters, 36-year-old office worker William Mok, said as he addressed the crowd.
Yahoo Sports estimates that the dispute with China could depress the league’s salary cap – and therefore NBA wages – by up to 15% next season.
Some protestors thought James’s comments had more to do with money than politics. “James was trying, you know, to take a side, on the China side, which is like ridiculous,” said Aaron Lee, a 36-year-old marketing director. “He was being honest, financially. Financial is money. Simple as that. LeBron James stands for money. Period.”
Enes Kanter has some thoughts on LeBron James’ weak reaction to NBA’s China situation
Jack Baer | Yahoo Sports
If there is one player in the NBA who’s going to have something to say about the league’s weak reaction to its ongoing China controversy, it’s Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter.
The Turkish national has plenty of experience with authoritarian regimes. His native Turkey has been turned into a “totalitarian prison” under president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, according to the Washington Post’s editorial board, and Kanter has effectively lost his country by speaking out against the dictator.
Meanwhile, the NBA and its players are dealing with an authoritarian problem of their own. Of course, rather than face the stick from Turkey as Kanter has, they are instead being incentivized by the carrot of Chinese revenue to stay silent about the country’s human rights violations and suppression of democracy in Hong Kong. China’s threat to erase the league from the country like it has the Rockets and so many other dissenters has been effective; no major NBA players have publicly supported Daryl Morey’s tweet of “Fight for Freedom, Stand with Hong Kong,” lest they lose a significant portion of their paycheck.
Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James went so far as to call Morey “misinformed” on Monday for tweeting such a thing about a city where police have arrested thousands of protesters pushing for democratic elections and against a bill that would allow criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China.
Enes Kanter has some things to say, probably about LeBron James
James’ complaints of a “terrible week” in which the Lakers nearly had preseason games cancelled, lamenting how “people could have been harmed, not only financially but physically, emotionally spiritually” by Morey’s tweet — “hurt feelings” are a frequent trope used by Chinese propaganda against dissent — and refusal to discuss the politics of a country where he makes millions predictably drew some prime subtweeting from Kanter late Monday night.
Kanter didn’t immediately denounce the NBA’s reaction to Morey’s tweet either, though he probably shouldn’t have to be the league’s singular anti-authoritarian mouthpiece at the end of the day. He instead said that he hoped the league could “build bridges.” Monday’s sub-tweeting might be a signal he’s becoming less confident in that happening.
Just what the Celtics-Lakers rivalry needed: geopolitical intrigue.