The National Basketball Association and Chinese government are at odds after NBA executive Daryl Morey tweeted support for the anti-Chinese government protests in Hong Kong. President Trump criticized the NBA for not standing up to China, and included two prominent coaches in his criticism.
The NBA flip-flopped on how to avoid significant financial backlash, as the NBA is investing in China to grow their international fanbase. First, an NBA spokesperson said that they were apologetic for the tweet and hoped that it would not offend their Chinese fans. Then, NBA commissioner Adam Silver reaffirmed Morey’s right to free speech but wished to continue their ongoing relationship with the Chinese government and their fans in China.
Steve Kerr, who coaches the Golden State Warriors franchise in Oakland, California, and Gregg Popovich, who coaches the San Antonio Spurs franchise in San Antonio, Texas, avoided commenting on the NBA-China feud. Both coaches are public advocates for social issues and are known to criticize President Donald Trump on multiple occasions. Their silence on China is remarkable, as they use their position to influence the media and NBA fans on social issues that they are passionate about.
ESPN reported that Trump said both coaches’ silence on China showed they were “pandering to China.” He added that Kerr “was like a little boy, he was so scared to be even answering the question.” “He couldn’t answer the question — he was shaking, ‘Oh, oh, oh, I don’t know. I don’t know,’” Trump told the press, “He didn’t know how to answer the question, and yet he’ll talk about the United States very badly.”
Regarding Popovich, Trump said, “I watched Popovich — sort of the same thing, but he didn’t look quite as scared actually.” He said, “But they talk badly about the United States, but when it talks about China, they don’t want to say anything bad. I thought it was pretty sad, actually. It’ll be very interesting.”
ESPN reported on Kerr’s response to Trump, when he said that he will not comment on China, “Generally, my feeling is the things that I’m going to comment on are the things that I feel comfortable speaking about, things I feel well versed about.” Kerr highlighted his gun control advocacy and said that it is “my pet cause” and that he feels “really comfortable with that.” He reiterated that he will not comment on China because “[t]here are places where I don’t feel as comfortable. This would be one of them.”
Kerr further skirted questions about China and the country’s poor human rights record and said, “people in China didn’t ask me about, you know, people owning AR-15s and mowing each other down in a mall. I wasn’t asked that question.” Instead of answering the question, Kerr inferred that unless reporters ask about mass shootings in China and in the U.S., he would not answer the question.
Popovich’s response was also silent on China’s human rights record and reaffirmed Trump’s point about the NBA’s hypocrisy on China. The Washington Post reported that Popovich compared NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to Trump. Popovich said Silver has “been a heck of a leader in that respect and very courageous. Then you compare it to what we’ve had to live through the past three years, it’s a big difference,” the latter referring to Trump. Popovich added, “A big gap there, leadership-wise and courage-wise. It wasn’t easy for him to say. He said that in an environment fraught with possible economic peril. But he sided with the principles that we all hold dearly, or most of us did until the last three years. I’m thrilled with what he said. The courage and leadership displayed is off the charts by comparison.”
The media covered the Trump-Kerr-Popovich public feud and back-and-forth, which reiterated the NBA’s hypocrisy when it comes to China, China’s poor human rights record, and how the NBA and its coaches are concerned about financial investments in China over free speech. This time, the mainstream media did an adequate job in pointing out the NBA’s resistance to comment on China’s political situation, despite the reality that China is notorious for human rights abuses.