“Fight for freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.”
On Oct. 4, Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey sent the National Basketball Association (NBA) into a frenzy when he tweeted a graphic with this message. The statement is a direct reference to the ongoing protests in Hong Kong, the special administrative region of China that has faced continuous suppression from the Chinese government.
Morey’s tweet initially seemed like a meaningless political statement, but the NBA has expanded into Chinese markets and attracted millions of Chinese fans. Morey’s Houston Rockets are one of the most popular NBA teams in China, as Chinese sensation Yao Ming played in Houston for nearly a decade. But after the news of his tweet broke, the Chinese government pulled all Rockets game off of its state television.
In the midst of the chaos, NBA commissioner Adam Silver was put into a difficult situation. He could either support Morey and risk losing the support of Chinese fans and markets or condemn Morey’s statement to protect the league’s relationship with China.
Silver ultimately opted for a statement somewhere between these two options, stating that he supported Morey “in terms of his ability to exercise his freedom of expression.” While his statement abstained from antagonizing either Morey or the Chinese, it was ultimately a missed opportunity for Silver to stand up to the Chinese government.
While many people would agree that politics and sports should remain separate entities, this situation is very different from the National Football League’s divisive national anthem protests. The NBA controversy is centered around global economic interests rather than domestic social issues.
Billions of dollars are at stake here. As of February 2018, the organization NBA China was worth $4 billion, meaning that the average NBA team generated over $133 million in revenue among Chinese audiences. This number has likely increased in the time since then, but it could plummet if other Chinese broadcasters follow the lead of the country’s state television.
This issue goes well beyond the NBA’s teams and players, but that did not stop the outspoken LeBron James from weighing in on the situation. In a since-deleted tweet, James implied that Morey was “misinformed” and “not educated” on the subject of the Hong Kong protests. He was quickly criticized by the American media for failing to take a tough stand against the Chinese. Essentially, Morey’s statement was too aggressive, Silver’s response was passive and James’ interpretation of the events was far from the truth.
As for fans of the NBA, the contradictory messages sent by these three men have created yet another problem. On Oct. 8, a Philadelphia 76ers fan was ejected from the team’s preseason game after holding a “Free Hong Kong” sign and chanting the phrase after Wells Fargo Center security confiscated his sign. The 76ers’ opponent that night was a professional Chinese team, the Guangzhou Loong Lions.
Nearly two weeks after Daryl Morey brought this problem to the surface, there is no sensible solution for the league’s administration, players, or fans. Right now, it appears that the NBA is closely tied but simultaneously with China. And when American organizations fail to demonstrate clear intentions to our communist rival, it does not usually come to a favorable end.
Carson Swick is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.