China makes the NBA a lot of money. Basketball stars hold camps overseas, preseason games are played there, and millions of dollars worth of merchandise are sold in Chinese stores. Their partnership has given the NBA billions in revenue. However, this once-tight relationship was put on edge last week after a tweet from Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey in response to the Hong Kong protests.
To understand the effects of this tweet, you must first understand what is happening between China and Hong Kong. Hong Kong has been considered a part of China since 1997, but it has its own laws, police force, a system of government, etc. Earlier this year, Carrie Lam, Chief Executive of China’s capital, tried to chip away at some of this autonomy by passing an extradition bill. This would force anyone from Hong Kong that was accused of a crime to be sent to court in China, where the courts are Communist. People in Hong Kong feared unfair trials, so protests began. Lam eventually folded the bill, but Hong Kong feared it would reappear and began demands for complete freedom. Protests continued, and police forces started to get involved. Then, on October 4th, Daryl Morey, one of the most influential people in the NBA, sent out this tweet:
Since China and the NBA had a very tight partnership, Chinese officials were shocked. They felt like they were no longer supported by the NBA. In response, they canceled all tv showings of games in China, costing the NBA millions. Commissioner Adam Silver called Morey’s tweet “regrettable” in an attempt to gain back China’s trust. However, he received backlash for not supporting self-determination. It really was a lose-lose situation.
When asked about the events of the recent days, Lebron James, one of the NBA’s biggest stars, said that Morey “wasn’t educated on the situation at hand” (via Silver Screen and Roll). Now under fire for his opinion on the situation, LeBron insisted that he was commenting on Morey’s decision to tweet and not the protests. Many people believe he is supporting the communists, though, and videos of burning LeBron James jerseys have spread all across the internet.
The NBA has been questioned for its policy on free speech, as it seems selective. The global powerhouse often advocates for players to express their opinions on politics and other issues in the U.S., but when it comes to their biggest money-maker, they appear to have a tighter leash on what the athletes can and can’t say. It is unclear if or when this issue will be resolved, but it surely has affected the relationship between the two.