The game of basketball knows no boundaries, at least, that is what the National Basketball Association (NBA) says when it promotes basketball games and its league across the globe. It has a Beyond Borders basketball development program, which has led to several players from Africa making it big in the United States, and had a successful partnership in China.
However, the NBA ran into a controversy when one of its league executives, Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, tweeted support for the anti-communist Hong Kong protesters. Morey’s boss, Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta, issued a statement saying that Morey was expressing his personal opinion and that the Rockets franchise is non-partisan and apolitical.
It did not stop the Chinese central government from allegedly pulling strings from behind the curtain, with a Chinese shoe manufacturer Li-Ning pulling sponsorships from the NBA and the Chinese state television Tencent suspending live streaming of NBA preseason games in China.
The NBA apologized for the social media firestorm on the Hong Kong protests when spokesman Mike Bass said that Morey’s tweet may “have deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China, which is regrettable.” Backlash from American politicians and pundits was then unleashed on the NBA, accusing Fertitta and the NBA of suppressing Morey’s right to free speech.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver clarified the earlier statement and said that the NBA upholds Morey’s right to free speech and will not be “regulating what players and team owners say.”
The mainstream media has done a commendable job in reporting and discussing the social media controversy surrounding Morey’s tweet, the Hong Kong protests, and the NBA’s role in China. CNBC noted “the difficulty American companies face when they want to do business within China’s massive economy, but can’t run the risk of saying anything that will upset the country’s autocratic government.” NPR outlined how the NBA backtracked on condemning Morey’s tweet with Silver’s statement and how tricky a situation it is between the NBA, U.S. and China. Axios specifically pointed out how China’s government pressures American companies and corporate interests, such as the NBA, to apologize for its American values such as freedom of speech. CNN concurred with many of the previous outlets on how the NBA cannot emerge a winner in this controversy.
In short, instead of covering up or ignoring this news story, the mainstream media did a commendable job in discussing both sides of the story and pointing out the NBA’s hypocrisy on free speech.
Photo by Jim Makos