The National Basketball Association continued its bad string of news, with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence’s recent public criticism of the basketball league in its response to the Chinese government.
The NBA is embroiled in a stand-off with the Chinese government after Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted support for anti-government protesters in Hong Kong, after which Chinese partnerships and sponsorships of NBA teams were withdrawn and left the NBA in a difficult financial and public relations situation.
Pence told the press that the NBA acted “like a wholly owned subsidiary of the authoritarian regime” of the Communist Chinese government. He said, “Some of the NBA’s biggest players and owners, who routinely exercise their freedom to criticize this country, lose their voices when it comes to the freedom and rights of other peoples.” Pence added that the NBA is “siding with the Chinese Communist Party and silencing free speech.”
Pence’s speech did not specifically name NBA players, but LeBron James could have been the reference in the speech. James told the press last week that Morey’s tweet was “uninformed” and that free speech has negative consequences. James’s remarks sparked public backlash due to the perception that James prioritized his financial investments in China over the importance of free speech in China. James was called a hypocrite by critics due to his record of speaking out about social justice in the United States, while he remained silent over China’s lack of free speech and history of human rights abuses.
The NBA flip-flopped on free speech after Morey’s tweet went public, first apologizing for the tweet and later standing up for Morey’s right to free speech. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver acknowledged the league expected to suffer serious financial setbacks due to the China feud.
The mainstream media covered Pence’s criticism of both the Chinese government and the NBA’s response to the tweet controversy but lacked in giving an overall big picture for readers. For example, several media outlets ignored James’s involvement in the controversy in their articles.
CNN, ESPN and Politico did not mention James’s remarks on free speech and its negative consequences in their articles. But National Public Radio and CBS News mentioned James’s involvement in the controversy and how his comments sparked its own backlash among basketball fans and the general public.