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And in the end, ‘It’s so complicated. Very, very complicated’

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

Brian Lewis, the only member of the Nets beat writers to accompany the team to China, took to the streets of Shanghai Friday before the Nets left that city to find out how Chinese fans were reacting to the NBA’s tumultuous week

Bottom line, Lewis found, was that, “it’s just so complicated. Very, very complicated,” as one fan told him. Indeed, not all fans Lewis approached even wanted to talk and those who did didn’t want him to use their names.

There was, Lewis writes, differing degrees of anger over Rockets GM Daryl Morey’s tweet supporting Hong Kong protests. Many fans wanted an apology. Others blamed the week-long back-and-forth between the NBA and Chinese officials on “dirty politicians.”

“It’s complicated,” a restaurant worker in the city’s high-end Bund area reiterated, adding in quiet conspiratorial tones, “Politicians are always dirty. I don’t want to talk too much, but it’s always about politicians.”

Some fans, however, want that apology from Morey, claiming he doesn’t know enough about the situation in Hong Kong to warrant his tweet.

“That’s what we want. Well, that’s what our government wants. Quit or not quit, that’s not our business. They just want him to apologize,” said a local calling himself Peng.

“We don’t need your support. (Don’t) support the mad people . . . He’s never been to Hong Kong to see how crazy they are. They damage bank machines, the bus, take rocks to the police station.”

Others suggested that supporting the NBA had become difficult socially. It wasn’t that the fans felt they’d be jailed, just ostracized. Indeed, many fans outside the hotel where the two teams stayed covered their faces when cameras approached.

“It’s not that the police will arrest them. But if their face gets shared on social media people will attack them — and it will get shared,” a restaurant worker told the Post.

“On Weibo [a local social media platform] Chinese people if you say I watched LeBron James last night, I watched Kyrie Irving, so many people will attack you. Why you go do that, what’s wrong with you? Are you coward? If you like the American basketball why you don’t immigrate to the America?”

Both arenas in China were indeed packed for the games, even if the games couldn’t be seen on CCTV-5, China’s equivalent of ESPN, or TenCent, the league’s digital provider. Still, there was a sense of patriotism that in some cases overcame fandom.

“It’s a shame. They just want to see basketball. Some people are (mad), but it’s mostly just the government,” said a U.S.-educated fan in the glistening new area of Pudong.

It does appear, Lewis writes, that Joe Tsai’s open letter to fans won new fans for the Nets. Tsai contended the Hong Kong protests threatened Chinese “sovereignty” and called protesters a “separatist movement.” That angered many in the U.S. but went over well on the streets of Chinese cities.

“Brooklyn still will have good relationship with China because of Joe’s statement. So we will still love and happy to see Brooklyn on TV,” another fan noted. “If we can still see any game on TV.”

The same fan lamented that Jeremy Lin, now playing for the Beijng Ducks of the CBA, wasn’t still in the NBA. He could have helped eased the situation, the fan believed.

Li Yuan, a writer for the Times, also discussed Tsai’s letter in an opinion piece on how much the Chinese government represents the Chinese people. Tsai, a native of Taiwan who is U.S.-educated, tried to walk a fine line in the letter, but Li found one aspect of it troubling.

Joe Tsai, the only N.B.A. owner of Chinese descent, said all of China — yes, more than one billion people — felt the same way.

“The one thing that is terribly misunderstood, and often ignored, by the western press and those critical of China is that 1.4 billion Chinese citizens stand united when it comes to the territorial integrity of China and the country’s sovereignty over her homeland,” he wrote. “This issue is non-negotiable.”

For Westerners, this is strange language. You don’t hear about the common feelings of 300 million Americans or 60 million Brits, especially in the era of Donald Trump and Brexit.

Yet, in China, there is some truth to it. Of course, it’s a vast country brimming with opinions. But the Communist Party has spent decades preparing the Chinese people for a moment like this. The stir over Hong Kong shows, in dramatic fashion, how successful it has been, and how the world could be shaped by it.

The Hong Kong protests, Li wrote, has divided families but that the “patriotism button” is very effective, as it was this week. How will it all effect the NBA and the Nets. Some have suggested that unless the rift is mended, next year’s salary cap could drop 10-to-15% from lost revenue, (And the way the NBA is structured, don’t expect some massive windfall for the Nets. As Tsai has joked, the NBA is a “socialist system” with most revenues shared equally.)

Making things more difficult is that China, like many countries including the US, is becoming more nationalistic. China’s president Xi Jinping is a hardline figure even for the Chinese Communist Party. It’s unlikely he’ll restrain himself from keeping his finger firmly on the “patriotism button.”