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NBA commissioner Adam Silver told reporters this week that China’s response to former Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey expressing support for anti-government protesters in Hong Kong in 2019 cost the league hundreds of millions of dollars.
Morey, who is now the general manager of the Philadelphia 76ers, tweeted an image in October 2019 that read, “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.” Morey would later delete the tweet and explain that he had no intention of offending Rockets fans or his friends in China. The demonstrators were then protesting against the control of Hong Kong by China.
China initially pulled games from CCTV shortly after Morey’s comments, but the NBA returned to Chinese television in March. Silver said the NBA had lost “hundreds of millions” of dollars from the 18-month blackout, but he also highlighted the league’s commitment to free speech for players, coaches and leaders.
“Others since then have expressed their views on China and other places around the world, and if the consequences are that we get taken off the air or lose money, we accept that,” Silver told reporters at a news conference Thursday. , according to Reuters.
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The NBA initially said Morey’s comments were “regrettable” and that he had “deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China.” The league will later release another statement affirming its commitment to free speech.
Silver also pushed back on Thursday against criticism from U.S. lawmakers of the NBA’s trade relationship with China, noting that the league is just one of many companies working with the Chinese.
“From a policy standpoint, virtually every Fortune 100 company does business in China,” Silver said. “We have a huge, gigantic business relationship with China. Virtually every phone in this room, the clothes you wear, the shoes you wear, are made in China. is something where we have to look to the US government for guidance.”
“And if people are suggesting now that we shouldn’t have any more business dealings with China, and I don’t think they are, that’s a huge global issue where we’ll follow our government’s lead,” he said. he continued.
NBA free agent Enes Kanter Freedom has openly criticized China for its human rights abuses and repeatedly called out Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James and other athletes over their trade relations with the country.
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Chinese video streaming site Tencent kicked off the Boston Celtics’ season opener after Freedom, who was a member of the team at the time, wore shoes snapping China’s treatment of Tibet.
But some NBA executives have taken a different approach, downplaying the seriousness of China’s abuses.
Chamath Palihapitiya, co-owner of the Golden State Warriors, said in January that “no one cares” about concentration camps in China and the forced labor of the Uyghur population.
“Nobody cares what happens to Uyghurs, okay,” Palihapitiya said on the “All-In” podcast at the time. “You talk about it because you care and I think it’s good that you care. The rest of us don’t care. I’m just telling you a very hard, ugly truth. Of all the things that matter to me, yeah, that’s below my line.”
He would later revert to his comments on Twitter, saying he thought “human rights are important, whether it’s in China, the United States or anywhere else.”
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And Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said in October 2020 that he was “against human rights abuses around the world” but was fine with doing business with China” because “we have to choose our battles”.
“Personally, I prioritize national issues. I am against human rights abuses around the world,” Cuban said on a podcast at the time.
Silver celebrated the NBA’s return to Chinese broadcasts and said the league’s partnership with China was not incompatible with his beliefs.
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“I think the engagement is positive, especially through sports,” Silver said at the press conference. “Using sport as a platform to get people around the world talking is critically important. At the same time, I don’t think it’s inconsistent with our values for our game to be broadcast in China and in more than 200 other countries in the world.”