NBA faces backlash from the Chinese government
“Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong,” is a seven-word tweet that has caused one of the biggest controversies in National Basketball Association history since the implementation of the three-point line. This short tweet by the Houston Rockets’ General Manager, Daryl Morey, has caused the NBA world to explode. Millions to billions of dollars could be lost, countless jobs could be lost and the history of the league and possibly America could be altered forever. This article is going to be challenging for me to write, as I lack a political background, but it has shocked the sports world, and I have the relevant sports background.
On Monday, Oct. 4, Daryl Morey posted his tweet showing support for Hong Kong during their current protests for freedom from the current regime in China, as explained in an article by the New York Times. Without getting into politics, the Chinese government got incredibly mad and decided to throw the government equivalent of a temper tantrum. Within a day, both of the Chinese broadcasters of NBA games, China Central Television and Tencent Sports, banned Houston Rockets games from being broadcasted, Houston Rockets’ forums were banned from the Chinese internet and production and sales of all Houston Rockets merchandise were discontinued. Rumors swirled about the possibility of Daryl Morey, widely regarded as one of the best general managers in the league, being fired. Every figure in the NBA went silent; no statement was released and no one spoke up until Daryl Morey was forced to issue an apology that was very obviously written by NBA public relations.
Following Daryl Morey’s apology, the NBA released a statement in English expressing that Daryl Morey’s views were not necessarily shared by the NBA, and the NBA released another statement in Chinese condemning Daryl Morey for speaking on a topic of which he was not knowledgeable. Joe Tsai, the new owner of the Brooklyn Nets, echoed these sentiments and accused Daryl Morey of perpetuating imperialism.
The Chinese basketball market still did not think that this was enough, though, and did not call off their ban on the Rockets — essentially demanding more. Adam Silver, NBA commissioner since 2014, had had enough, and released a statement that specifically 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. We simply could not operate that way.” China cancelled all game broadcasts for all NBA teams in China, meaning that preseason games being played in China would not be broadcast anywhere. ANTA, a Chinese shoe company discontinued all talks of shoe extensions with players Rajon Rondo of the Los Angeles Lakers, Gordon Hayward of the Boston Celtics and Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors, and Nike China is in limbo with the fear of being evicted.
On Oct. 8, when the Los Angeles Lakers landed in China, expecting to be greeted by thousands at the airport, they were instead met with two dozen fans, all covering their faces in fear of being caught on camera supporting an NBA team. On Oct. 9, NBA insiders were talking about how the NBA expected their preseason games to be cancelled and all players were flown home. However, the games have not been cancelled, and there has been no new drama with either side.
The repercussions of the tweet haven’t all been felt yet. Currently, it is estimated that the league salary cap will decrease by $15 million per team if China continues to refuse to air any games. The salary cap is equivalent to the total revenue of all teams combined divided by the number of teams, and that is then divided again, with half going to owners and half going to the salary cap. Meaning if we were to do the math, then that is equivalent to almost one billion dollars of lost revenue going directly to the league. That doesn’t even factor in the fact that the salary cap is expected to go up, especially due to increased market share in China, Chinese shoe and gear sales and all the jobs being lost because of this crazy amount of capital being lost.
To make matters even crazier, eight members of Congress — Republican Senators Tom Cotton, Ted Cruz and Ben Sasse, as well as Senator Ron Wyden (D., Ore.), Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.), Jim Banks (R., In.), Mike Gallagher (R., Wis.) and Tom Malinowski (D., N.J.) — signed a letter condemning the league for not immediately taking a strong stance against China. The letter states, “It is outrageous that the Chinese Communist Party is using its economic power to suppress the speech of Americans inside the United States. It is also outrageous that the NBA has caved to Chinese government demands for contrition.” The letter continued to talk about the effects of the league's original statement and how it essentially shows support for China, as well as the effects it has on the people of Hong Kong, the NBA and American businesses. Now if you only read that list quickly, you might not have realized that Senator Ted Cruz and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez signed on this together — that is madness.
This China situation has become one of the craziest in the history of the league, but the NBA seems to have taken the “if we just ignore it, it will go away” approach, which seems to be working, as nothing has happened in the past few days. The long term effects of this situation will only be able to be observed years and years into the future, which, in my opinion, is really cool.