The NBA’s Support for Tyranny
One hard truth about principles is that
sticking to them can be inconvenient when it compromises your bottom line. This
is the challenge the NBA top brass, players, and coaches have faced when it
comes to Hong Kong.
They bungled that challenge and clearly have sold
out. Apparently, sticking to principles
is too high a price to pay when it might cut into the more than $8 billion in revenue the NBA earned in the
Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey found himself and his franchise embroiled in controversy last Friday after he tweeted: “Fight For Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.”
Morey’s tweet was met with immediate backlash in China, the NBA’s largest international market. China’s consulate general in Houston expressed his anger with Morey and the Rockets, telling them to immediately “clarify and correct the mistakes.” NBA sponsors and Chinese-based partners began to jump ship in short order.
Sportswear Company Yi-Ling condemned Morey’s tweet and
suspended its partnership with the Rockets. The Chinese Basketball Association,
chaired by former Rockets star Yao Ming, suspended all cooperation with
the Rockets. Shanghai Pudong Development Bank
followed suit, suspending all
marketing and publicity on behalf of the Houston Rockets.
Serious doubts were also cast on the viability
of critical NBA partnerships with Chinese media giants. Tencent Holdings
Limited, the exclusive official digital partner of the NBA in China, suspended all streaming related
to the Rockets less than three months after publicizing an estimated $1.5 billion contract extension with
the NBA. CCTV 5, China’s largest state sports channel, also canceled all programs
or games that feature the Rockets.
China’s rapid, clearly coordinated response to Morey’s tweet sent the NBA into damage control. Morey quickly deleted his tweet, and Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta released a tweet of his own that night, which read: “Listen … @dmorey does NOT speak for the @HoustonRockets . Our presence in Tokyo is all about the promotion of the @NBA internationally and we are NOT a political organization.”
On Sunday, Morey delivered a humiliating apology, distancing himself from the Rockets and the NBA, and Mike Bass, the NBA’s Chief Communications Officer, released the official league apology characterizing Morey’s tweet as “regrettable” and acknowledging Morey’s tweet “deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China,” i.e., the tyrannical government that controls everything and everyone in the country. The league’s statement was echoed in an open letter by Brooklyn Nets owner Joe Tsai, who contemptuously dismissed the brave, dangerous fight of Hong Kong residents for democracy and liberty as a “third rail issue.”
On Monday, the NBA’s official Chinese social
media account released an even more abject apology. In the Chinese version the
apology expressed the league’s “extreme disappointment” regarding Morey’s
“inappropriate remarks” and acknowledged Morey’s tweet “severely hurt the
feelings of Chinese fans.”
Fallout continued on Tuesday with the
announcement that Chinese state television has “decided to immediately
all broadcasting of NBA games played in country. It remains unclear if Tencent
will discontinue streaming.
The NBA’s groveling response to Chinese
criticism and censorship has drawn the ire of Republicans and Democrats alike. In a letter
sent to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver on Monday, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., communicated
his “disgust” for the league “kowtowing to the demands of one of the world’s
most brutal regimes in the pursuit of profit,” and called on the NBA to cancel
exhibition games in China.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Sen.
Ted Cruz, R-Texas, signed a joint letter Wednesday along with
six of their other colleagues saying it was “outrageous that the NBA has caved”
to the Chinese government.
On Tuesday, Commissioner Silver responded by
saying he was “apologetic and sympathetic” to the anger of the Chinese and
belatedly acknowledged that Morey enjoys the right to freedom of expression in
the United States.
Unsurprisingly, China’s CCTV rebuked Silver’s
assertion in a statement saying, “We
believe that any remarks that challenge national sovereignty and social
stability are not within the scope of freedom of speech.” All the
political prisoners in jails and concentration camps all over China certainly
know that to be true.
Silver is headed to Shanghai to further demean
the NBA in an attempt to repair the relationship between the NBA and China and
get the profits rolling in from China again.
In recent years, the NBA has been championed as
the most “woke” of all professional sports leagues. While the NFL was enduring
the Colin Kaepernick controversy, prominent NBA players and coaches, such as LeBron James and Gregg Popovich, rushed to Kaepernick’s
defense to disrespect the American flag.
In 2017, the NBA moved its annual All-Star Game from Charlotte, North Carolina, to New Orleans, over the North Carolina law that barred transgender individuals from using the bathroom of their choice.
In 2018, Silver said he was proud of players,
coaches, and owners expressing their political views. This statement came on
the heels of the 2018 World Champion Golden State Warriors’ decision to nix the
customary White House visit in protest of President Donald Trump.
The NBA’s position on social justice is crystal
clear. They are more than happy to virtue signal their political correctness so
long as it doesn’t affect their bottom line. North Carolina’s bathroom
legislation proved too offensive to the league’s sensibilities, but they don’t
find offensive what is happening in China and Hong Kong.
Evidently the NBA has no quarrel with China
stifling freedom of expression, denying freedom of religion, and assaulting and
imprisoning political dissidents. Adam Silver and the league have chosen to
stuff their coffers while turning a blind eye to rampant human rights abuses
perpetuated by the Chinese government. Such abuses include forced abortions and
sterilizations, as well as the internment of an estimated 1 million Muslims in
“re-education camps” – concentration camps by another name.
The NBA’s behavior is reminiscent of actions
taken by Hollywood during the 1930s to safeguard their business interests in a
burgeoning film market in Germany. Studio executives, blinded by greed, allowed
the Nazis to censor scripts, purge Jews from credits, and put the brakes on
films critical of Nazi Germany. Even more disturbing, the Nazis forced the head
of MGM Germany, Frits Strengholt, to divorce his Jewish wife who subsequently
ended up in a Nazi concentration camp.
Long gone are the days of largely apolitical
athletes and widespread acceptance of attitudes like “shut up and dribble.”
Activism in athletics is at an all-time high. Athletes are taking stands, and
It is high time athletes, particularly those in
the NBA, take a stand supporting Houston’s Daryl Morey, in defense of
representative government and for the preservation of basic human liberty. In a
league full of political activists like LeBron James, Gregg Popovich and Steve
Kerr, there should be no shortage of commentary on Commissioner Adam Silver’s
shameful decision to bend the knee and succumb to censorship by communist China.