In today’s political climate, there aren’t many things that we can all agree on. But condemning the communist and oppressive Chinese government and supporting the freedom of the people of Hong Kong should be one of them.
But apparently, there are some things more important than those values. For the National Basketball Association, the almighty dollar has forced them to back away from a team executive that voiced support for Hong Kong. For America’s most socially conscious sports league, this is an embarrassing about-face on a sensitive issue.
Stand With Hong Kong
This controversy began, as many do, with a tweet. The general manager of the Houston Rockets, one of the most popular NBA teams in China, tweeted his support for the protestors in Hong Kong. Daryl Morey has since deleted the tweet, but many preserved it with screenshots. Here is one reproduction. https://twitter.com/CurtisHouck/status/1181056501303123969?s=20
Such a simple statement should be noncontroversial in the United States. But Morey, the Rockets, and the NBA faced immediate backlash from millions of Chinese fans. More importantly, they saw outrage from Chinese investors and Chinese sponsors alike.
The NBA faced a decision: support their executive’s freedom of speech and stand with him for the freedom of the people of Hong Kong? Or take the easy way out and protect their financial relationships with China? The decision they made will surprise no one. NBA chief communications officer Mike Bass released the following statement:
We recognize that the views expressed by Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey have deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China, which is regrettable. While Daryl has made it clear that his tweet does not represent the Rockets or the NBA, the values of the league support individuals’ educating themselves and sharing their views on matters important to them. We have great respect for the history and culture of China and hope that sports and the NBA can be used as a unifying force to bridge cultural divides and bring people together.
The league also forced Morey to remove the tweet and apologize. His statement, delivered on Twitter, reads like a hostage tape. https://twitter.com/dmorey/status/1181000809363857409?s=20
Other NBA executives were quick to condemn Morey. Clearly, the NBA, which has in the past vocally supported social justice, feels differently when Chinese money is at stake.
The NBA faced backlash for their actions from Republicans and Democrats alike. Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who supports the Houston Rockets from his home state, had this to say: https://twitter.com/tedcruz/status/1181030466247417861?s=20 Senator Rick Scott of Florida piled on, pointing out the NBA’s active pursuit of Chinese investment during this controversy.
https://twitter.com/SenRickScott/status/1181024291095273473?s=20 Even TIME reporter Ian Bremmer publicly slammed the NBA with his own tweet on the matter, calling the Association’s actions “unconscionable.” https://twitter.com/ianbremmer/status/1181027905243160576?s=20
It won’t ultimately matter, though. The NBA knows well that America’s memory on this issue will be shorter than China’s. They can weather the temporary PR firestorm about this at home in order to put out the longterm and financially damaging fire that Morey’s tweet sparked in China.
It’s a troubling change of direction for a league that has an extensive history of social justice. Players are routinely allowed and encouraged to voice their displeasure with politicians and the White House over issues of race. Back in 2017, the NBA changed the host for its All-Star game after the planned host state, North Carolina, passed a bill viewed as an attack on transgenderism.
But apparently, when Chinese investment is on the line, the social conscience of the NBA goes right out the window. Politicians may pressure them, but the Association knows they’ll soon forget. It’s a bad look, but they’re well aware that by opening tip-off in a few weeks, no one will remember it.