By Brian Wakamo
The NBA has gotten itself into a bit of a situation.
On October 4, acclaimed Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted in support of the continuing protests in Hong Kong. His simple, two-sentence tweet (which has since been deleted) has prompted an unlikely controversy.
The owner of the Rockets, Tilman Fertitta, quickly denounced his general manager’s tweet, saying it does not speak for the organization and emphasizing that the Rockets are, resoundingly, not a political organization.
Why did Fertitta condemn his own manager? The replies to his tweet offer a clue.
Nearly all come from Chinese nationals warning that if Morey isn’t fired, the Rockets will lose the entire Chinese market. Fertitta himself may agree, as evidenced by his liking Instagram comments calling for Morey’s ouster. Reports suggest the Rockets have internally discussed this option.
Firing one of the most successful general managers in the NBA over the past decade may seem absurd. But the Rockets are the most popular NBA team in China — and, as many businesses have found, that market share can put a lot of pressure on political speech well outside of the country.
By now the Rockets have lost business deal after business deal in China, drawn a condemnation from the Chinese consulate in Houston, and jeopardized their status in the country.
The NBA hasn’t exactly been supportive of Morey either. In a bland statement, Commissioner Adam Silver offered only very tepid backing.
Meanwhile Brooklyn Nets owner Joe Tsai — a co-founder of Chinese retail giant Alibaba — put out a long statement describing Hong Kong’s protests as a “separatist movement.”
In an especially disappointing statement, superstar LeBron James seemed to suggest Morey — who has been doing business in China for over a decade — was “misinformed” about the situation in Hong Kong.
American politicians from across the spectrum, on the other hand, have been much more supportive.
Republican Senator Ted Cruz tweeted in support of Morey, while fellow Republicans Rick Scott and Josh Hawley demanded answers from the NBA. Democratic presidential candidates Beto O’Rourke, Julián Castro, and Elizabeth Warren all condemned the response from the league as well.
Yet this groundswell of support from American politicians will likely only inflame the critical response from China.
China has long been attempting to regulate foreign free speech via economic pressure.
Many movie studios, like Disney’s Marvel outfit, have altered scripts to prevent films from being boycotted in the Chinese market. Google has repeatedly censored its searches to appease the Chinese government, while Twitter has suspended accounts which are critical of China.
This pattern extends even further. China’s government often pays Chinese student associations on college campuses to boost Chinese state visits — and to criticize any sentiment seen as anti-China. In many cases, the Chinese government has harassed even non-Chinese academics who criticize the state.
Among major sports leagues, the NBA often brands itself as the most woke. LeBron James has consistently stood up for the Black Lives Matter movement, and once called President Trump a “bum.”
But the league has long been happy to take Chinese money and sponsorships, especially since Yao Ming was drafted by the same Houston Rockets years ago. And progressive politics hardly dominate there besides — Tilman Fertitta has even proclaimed his support for Trump’s policies.
Still, the obvious prioritization of commercial ties with a government that’s attacking demonstrators in Hong Kong and putting millions of ethnic Uyghurs in concentration camps is a damning statement about what the league — and the economic system it operates in — truly values.
Brian Wakamo is a researcher on the Global Economy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.
Do away with the NBA, NFL, AFL and any other professional sport where members and players have lost their respect and allegiance to the United States of America. End of story!
Traveling Rep says
IMO, all of us as Americans need to re-evaluate what products we consume. Our insatiable desire for cheap Chinese goods has caused this imbalance and thus China’s economic influence – a communist society that squashes every dissident in its path. Put your middle finger up and salute Xi!
Why don’t you educate yourself about the history of protesting the anthem and the flag. It is not anti-American. You are indoctrinated to believe that the “Made in China” flag that hangs on Federal buildings or in yards, protects all people in this country. You are wrong. Right now the Supreme Court is debating whether or not LBGT people are, in a sense, people that can work without fear of being fired for who they are on a Federal level to protect them in states that have no such protections, like Florida. African-Americans are marginalized and targeted more so than their Caucasian counterparts. Muslim Americans are subjected to profiling and unnecessary special precautions and sideways glances. Scared, irrational people call the police on non-Caucasian people, for most times being somewhere “they” shouldn’t be (in their scared, weak minds) . I refuse to say the pledge and I will not stand for the anthem. I haven’t for 30 years and I will not start until all people are treated as equals under the Constitution that was written for all, not just a select few.
What is upsetting about the NBA is they shut down freedom of speech and forced their players to toe the line because of a lucrative contract and growing NBA market. But they are not the only ones supporting oppression and violence in Hong Kong by not dismissing China. We all are every time we make a purchase of an item “Made in China,” and good luck finding things that aren’t. Even some of our food comes from there. It is disgusting how in bed with a Communist country we are further solidifying that this country has no respect for its own people or the Constitution, which is the most important document in our history (second is the Bill of Rights). Too many people don’t know the contents of either and yet proclaim they are more patriotic than those that do and actually fight for causes that support the words of our Founding Fathers by protesting and drawing attention to causes and issues happening that should upset any human being.
Sam Delugio says
> You are indoctrinated to believe that the “Made in China” flag that hangs on Federal buildings or in yards, protects all people in this country.
Wrong. Anyone who believe that the flag is there to protect you has the narrative wrong.
> Right now the Supreme Court is debating whether or not LBGT people are, in a sense, people that can work without fear of being fired for who they are on a Federal level to protect them in states that have no such protections, like Florida.
Wrong. The debate isn’t whether LGBT people can or cannot work. It’s a debate about whether LGBT people are somehow special snowflakes that need extra protection over just … people in general. Nobody but a few ignored insane people are saying that LGBT people should be “fired for who they are”.
The rest of your post paints a grim, yet false picture of how things are in the US. A country who is enjoying less violent crime, less discrimination and less poverty than it ever has in its entire history. But you know, instead of continuing to improve on it, let’s protest. Let’s look really, really hard for every failure. Then let’s amplify it, and PROTEST about how it all needs to be torn down. Because you know.. that will make it much much better.