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China Vs. The NBA: On Houston Rockets GM's Pro-Hong Kong Tweet

A man walks past statues of NBA players Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors, left, and Lebron James of the Los Angeles Lakers holding Chinese flags in the entrance of an NBA merchandise store in Beijing, Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019. (Mark Schiefelbein/AP)
A man walks past statues of NBA players Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors, left, and Lebron James of the Los Angeles Lakers holding Chinese flags in the entrance of an NBA merchandise store in Beijing, Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019. (Mark Schiefelbein/AP)

An NBA executive’s Hong Kong tweet tips off fierce backlash from China. Why does the NBA care? We follow the bouncing ball and dollars.


Jeff Zillgitt, NBA reporter for USA Today Sports. He’s covered 10 NBA Finals and seven Olympics. ( @JeffZillgitt)

Brian Yang, producer of “Linsanity,” a documentary about Chinese American NBA player Jeremy Lin. Actor and reality TV host. ( @briflys)

Rui Zhong, program associate at the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States at the Wilson Center. Her research focuses on U.S.-China business and cultural relations. ( @rzhongnotes)

From The Reading List

USA Today: “ Opinion: NBA commissioner Adam Silver at center of China controversy and has no winning play” — “No one is happy with the NBA.

“And in the middle stands Adam Silver, the NBA commissioner who is on the receiving end of criticism from both sides – mainland China, which is unhappy with Daryl Morey’s pro-Hong Kong tweet, and pro-democracy supporters worldwide.

“Mainland China wants a stronger rebuke of Houston Rockets general manager Morey, including his dismissal, and pro-democracy supporters are disappointed the NBA didn’t offer stronger support for Morey and essentially kowtowed to communist and authoritarian China in the name of profit.

“The NBA is ensnared in a geopolitical crisis, one that was bound to happen sooner or later. When a company is global and wants to expand its footprint and increase revenue, it sometimes deals with nations with less-than-stellar human rights records.

“It’s up to Silver to navigate the crisis, which has drawn the attention of four presidential candidates (Andrew Yang, Julian Castro, Beto O’Rourke and Elizabeth Warren) and at least five U.S. senators (Chuck Schumer, Ben Sasse, Marco Rubio, Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz), all of whom criticized the NBA for its response.”

New York Times: “ N.B.A. Executive’s Hong Kong Tweet Starts Firestorm in China” — “The general manager of the Houston Rockets sought to quell an outcry in China on Sunday night after the support he expressed on Twitter for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong upset sponsors, media outlets and basketball officials in a country that invests billions in the N.B.A.

“The initial and quickly deleted message by the general manager, Daryl Morey, on Friday night to ‘stand with Hong Kong’ put the N.B.A. at odds with its largest and highest-priority international market. But he tried to mitigate the damage with two clarifying tweets from Tokyo, where the Rockets are scheduled to play two exhibition games against the Toronto Raptors.

“‘I did not intend my tweet to cause any offense to Rockets fans and friends of mine in China,’ Morey wrote, adding that his view did not represent the Rockets or the N.B.A. ‘I was merely voicing one thought, based on one interpretation, of one complicated event. I have had a lot of opportunity since that tweet to hear and consider other perspectives.’ ”

NBC News: “ NBA’s Silver says won’t regulate what players, employees say amid China anger” — “NBA Commissioner Adam Silver backed down Tuesday on the league’s criticism of Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey who triggered fury in China when he tweeted his support for Hong Kong’s protesters.

“Silver 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.’

“‘The long-held values of the NBA are to support freedom of expression, certainly by members of the NBA community,’ Silver told reporters after issuing the statement, adding that Morey enjoys that right as one of their employees.”

The Guardian: “ Opinion: NBA’s China reaction shows the league is only woke when it doesn’t cost money” — “The NBA’s handling of the Daryl Morey controversy over the weekend showed the league is happy to toe the ‘woke’ line at home while selling out abroad, all in the endless pursuit of cash.

“Since March, anti-government protests have swept Hong Kong. The movement has since expanded to include the question of Hong Kong’s legal independence from China. Police and pro-democracy protestors have clashed, with live ammunition even being used on the crowds.

“On Friday, Daryl Morey, general manager of the Houston Rockets, tweeted, then deleted, an image in support of the protests that stated: ‘Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong.’ He tweeted in support of freedom, which even in splintered times, seems like the tamest of positions any US citizen could take.

“The tweet set off a geopolitical firestorm. The Chinese government, the Chinese Basketball Association, and two sponsors – Li-Ning and Shanghai Pudong Development Bank – announced they were halting their relationships with the NBA and the Rockets specifically. The NBA released statements in English and Mandarin distancing themselves from Morey’s tweet. Perhaps most detrimentally, Tencent, the NBA digital rights holder in China, which recently announced a five-year expansion of the pair’s existing deal, announced Morey was blacklisted. Tencent suspended all coverage of the Rockets.”

NBA.com: “ Rockets embrace status as ‘China’s Team’” — “There was an afternoon a dozen years ago when Yao Ming, then-coach Jeff Van Gundy and a few friends were riding in a van here through China’s largest city and marveling at the ubiquitous presence of the 7-foot-6 center. His image could be found on billboards, the side of buses, on restaurant menus, just about anyplace one looked. He was literally the face of his nation as a pitchman and international symbol.

“While stopped at a traffic light, Van Gundy asked his young center what might happen if Yao got out of the van and simply walked through a nearby public park.

“‘Do you me to play for the Rockets this season?’ Yao asked with a grin. ‘Do you want to ever see me again? Because if I start to walk down the street, I might get swallowed up.’

“When the Rockets took part in those first NBA Global Games in China back in 2004, it was very much a celebration of the first ever No. 1 NBA draft pick to come out of the world’s most populous nation. A Yao-apalooza, if you will.

“Now more than a decade later, Yao is back in his hometown as a retired former player, budding businessman and brand new Hall of Fame inductee, and the NBA has returned for the 10th edition of the Global Games in China as a different animal as well.”

Foreign Policy: “ Smiles Won’t Get CEOs Far in China” — “As far as Elon Musk is concerned, his trip to China this month went just great. He arrived back in the United States after a meet-and-greet with Wang Qishan, China’s newly appointed U.S. interlocutor. The Tesla, Inc. CEO reflected admiringly on Wang’s knowledge of culture and philosophy, and he claimed ‘the world has never seen human energy & vigor at such scale’ as in China.

“Musk’s enthusiasm represents a common reaction from CEOs, from Apple’s Tim Cook to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, after hobnobbing with top-level Chinese leaders. Entrepreneurs almost always walk away from showy, flattering meetings convinced that the Chinese side is sympathetic to their needs and that they can play a pivotal role in the complex relations between Washington and Beijing. But they’re badly mistaken, and the fundamentals of foreign businesses in China are under serious political threat from a government obsessed with its own ideas of national security.

“CEOs are given to falling for these carefully managed meetings, in part from ego and in part because of their persistent belief that these business relationships—inevitably referred to by the Chinese word guanxi—can open all the doors they need in China. But while guanxi can grease the wheels of getting meetings or getting attention to deals, it can’t halt China’s growing intrusions, under the guise of security, into the supply chains that have been such a crucial part of the U.S.-China trade relationship.”

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.