They and the NBA would prefer that this game be a bit less dramatic than Thursday’s contest in Shanghai that looked like it would be canceled right up to game time. (Reporters covering the game, in fact, had tentative dinner reservations set for for 7:30 p.m., just in case.)
Now, according to the New York Times Keith Bradsher and Javier C. Hernández, they may get their wish. No specifics, but the reporters write that China apparently would like to “blow the whistle” on the nationalist protests against the NBA.
After three days of fanning nationalistic outrage, the Chinese government abruptly moved on Thursday to tamp down public anger at the N.B.A. as concerns spread in Beijing that the rhetoric was damaging China’s interests and image around the world.
The report notes that word has come down from on high in the Chinese government that enough is enough.
Editors at state news outlets have told reporters to avoid emphasizing the N.B.A. issue for fear that it might become overheated, according to interviews with three journalists on Thursday.
Of course for six days, from Friday night, when Rockets GM Daryl Morey tweeted his backing of Hong Kong protests, to Thursday night’s Nets-Lakers contest, it was game on. Initially, the government assailed the Rockets, China’s most popular team.
Rockets-themed merchandise was removed from stores and e-commerce platforms (including Alibaba’s Taobao, owned by Joe Tsai). Then, as the game approached, the target became the NBA as a whole (but never the Nets) with the Education Ministry canceling NBA Cares events, Chinese state media dropping the game from his TV and digital platforms and excoriating Adam Silver for suggesting Morey’s right of self-expression trumped China’s concerns.
“I think this issue will gradually de-escalate — Global Times will not push to keep it hot,” Hu Xijin, the newspaper’s top editor, wrote in an electronic response to a Times request for comment. “I also hope the American side won’t make any moves to escalate it.”
China’s foreign ministry spokesman refused to say anything further about the dispute at Thursday’s news briefing, Bradsher and Hernandez added in their dispatch from Beijing, the nation’s capital.
Officials now are apparently concerned that other athletes will join in the Hong Kong protests and may even think about boycotting Chinese-based sporting events.
One key thing to look for is whether CCTV, Chinese state media, or TenCent, the NBA’s digital platform, will relent and broadcast the game Saturday.
Moreover, there is concern, the Times reporters wrote, that the dispute could draw unwelcome attention to Alibaba, Tsai’s firm which would like to compete with Amazon. Tsai’s Facebook post drew criticism when he borrowed nationalist language in suggesting the protests in Hong Kong were “separatist” and a threat to Chinese sovereignty.
- China Blows Whistle on Nationalistic Protests Against the N.B.A. - Keith Bradsher & Javier C. Hernández - New York Times