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NBA cuts off media access to teams, players

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Los Angeles Lakers v Brooklyn Nets - NBA China Games 2019 Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

After days of having the Chinese government cut off media access to the NBA China Games —dropping national TV coverage of the Nets-Lakers game in Shanghai, cancelling NBA Cares programs and fan nights, etc, the league decided it would take the initiative in Shenzhen and eliminated media availabilities in the southern Chinese city.

The tip-off for the Nets-Lakers game in Shenzhen is set for 7:30 p.m. local time (7:30 a.m. New York time.) NBA TV has the call.

“We have decided not to hold media availability for our teams for the remainder of our trip in China,” the NBA said in a statement. “They have been placed into a complicated and unprecedented situation while abroad and we believe it would be unfair to ask them to address these matters in real time.”

The news comes after players expressed frustration with the way the annual games had become a political melodrama, with them as bit players on a larger geopolitical stage. The NBA consulted players before making the move.

All of this began, of course, with a tweet by Rockets GM Daryl Morey supporting Hong Kong protests last Friday night, which led to Beijing taking a number of steps first against the Rockets, then the NBA as a whole.

Brian Lewis, the only New York media on hand for the games, listed the ways the Chinese government had retaliated against the league, canceling a host of events that had player availability, including:

On Tuesday, the Nets’ NBA Cares dedication event at a local school.

On Wednesday, the Lakers’ NBA Cares Special Olympics Clinic, both teams’ post-practice availability, and the NBA Fan Night.

On Thursday, the NBA 2K event as well as NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s pregame press conference, both teams’ postgame press conferences and each sides mixed zone availability all eventually got shut down as well.

The government also removed the Shanghai game (and presumably the Shenzhen game) from CCTV-5, the main Chinese sports channel, as well as the NBA’s main digital network, TenCent.

So on Friday, with the Shenzhen game hours away —and the Nets and Lakers headed to the city— the league pre-empted the government in deciding to call off scheduled press conferences. The league was careful not to put the players or coaches under a league-imposed gag order.

The NBA decision also lessened pressure on players like LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Spencer Dinwiddie, all with Chinese fan followings (and endorsements). They now won’t have to answer questions that could yield controversial answers. James Harden, the Rockets star, apologized to China for his GM’s comments while playing in Japan earlier in the week. That brought criticism back home.

Meanwhile, the Nets official social media team posted videos of the team interacting with fans in Shanghai at small NBA events as well as video of the players moving around the city...

No indication that the YES Network will carry Saturday’s game in Shenzhen.