As tensions between the NBA and China continue to mount, both CCTV, the country’s main television network, and TenCent, the NBA’s digital carrier, have announced they will not broadcast the Nets-Lakers preseason games Thursday night in Shanghai and Saturday night in Shenzhen. Both are part of the annual NBA China Games.
While the Nets continue to tour Shanghai, their main community event —the dedication of a new Learn and Play Center at a primary school here in the city was cancelled by the Education Ministry. A second NBA Cares event scheduled for Wednesday remains on the schedule.
The Chinese government, which had restricted its attacks on the Rockets in the early days of the crisis, is now turning its focus on the NBA as a whole. The Rockets GM, Daryl Morey, tweeted his support for Hong Kong protesters on Friday night, posting, “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong,” That set off a firestorm in the People’s Republic. Although the tweet was removed and both Houston owner Tillman Fertitta and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver expressed their “regrets,” the Peoples’ Republic has not been satisfied by the reaction and are apparently escalating the situation.
The question now is whether the NBA China Games themselves are in jeopardy. Marc Stein wrote Tuesday that “there are growing fears that government officials will cancel the two games.”
Moreover, the Nets new owner, Joe Tsai, issued a controversial statement on Monday, suggesting that the issue for Chinese fans was historical. The protests in Hong Kong, he wrote, represent a threat to China’s “territorial integrity” and referred to the protesters as a “separatist movement,” borrowing language often used by Beijing and its allies in Hong Kong.
Silver, who’s been criticized in the US for what seemed to be an apology to China, released a new statement that opened, “I recognize that our initial statement left people angry, confused or unclear on who we are or what the NBA stands for.”
Silver went on to state that despite the Chinese reaction, “the NBA will not put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees and team owners say or will not say on these issues. We simply could not operate that way.”
In a press conference, Silver noted that “We are not apologizing for Daryl exercising his freedom of expression” and noted that he “regrets” how so many Chinese people and NBA fans were upset by the tweet. He added that freedom of speech “has consequences,” and that now “we will have to live with those consequences.” Silver, who’s been in Japan for other NBA preseason games, is expected to travel to China Wednesday.
CCTV dismissed Silver’s remarks.
“We are strongly dissatisfied and we oppose Silver’s claim to support Morey’s right of free expression. We believe that any speech that challenges national sovereignty and social stability is not within the scope of freedom of speech,” CCTV said in its statement in Chinese, which was translated by CNBC.
The state-run TV channel also said it will “immediately investigate all co-operation and exchanges involving the NBA.” CCTV and TenCent called the decision not to broadcast a suspension of arrangements for the game, leaving open the possibility that things could change.
Meanwhile, the Nets and their owner went through with some internal events including a team photo atop a Shanghai skyscraper, all recorded on the Nets social media feeds as if nothing was amiss.
BROOOOOOOOOKLYYYYYYYN#NBAChinaGames pic.twitter.com/GvjlW7jurN— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) October 8, 2019
Team photo time! #NBAChinaGames pic.twitter.com/owYTRIcAgb— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) October 8, 2019
More behind-the-scenes looks at our team photos pic.twitter.com/EQIWHHl5AF— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) October 8, 2019
BK Shanghai pic.twitter.com/T0cI88gjqU— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) October 8, 2019
Coaches only pic.twitter.com/y8qpKGwG3k— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) October 8, 2019
Nets players and coaches appear to be limiting their own social media offerings. Assistant coach Tiago Splitter offered his thoughts on some dumplings and Spencer Dinwiddie discussed crypto currency. Tsai did speak to U.S. media.
The question now is what does the Chinese government want? Relations between the United States and Peoples Republic are frayed, in large part due to an ongoing and intensifying trade war. Talks between the two countries on trade will re-open Thursday, the same day as the first of the two Laker games.
Reports out of China indicate that Chinese officials are growing hesitant to pursue a broad trade deal with the United States. Moreover, on Monday, the Treasury Department added 28 companies and Chinese government entities to a blacklist restricting their ability to do business with American companies.
- Chinese state media and Tencent suspend broadcast of NBA preseason games in China - Arjun Kharpal - CNBC.com
- Nets Owner Joe Tsai Didn’t Seem Political. Until Now. - Sopan Deb and Li Yuan - New York Times
- When It Comes to China, Silence Is Golden - Editorial - New York Times
- The World’s Wokest Sports League Bows to China - Bari Weiss - New York Times
- Chinese government cancels Nets’ event as tensions grow - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- NBA Commissioner says league will support freedom of speech - Stephen Wade & Tim Reynolds - AP
- The Latest: Chinese say people have expressed their opinion - AP
- NBA’s China Furor May Make Nets the Country’s Most Popular Team - Scott Soshnick - Bloomberg
- Adam Silver Affirms NBA Support For Freedom Of Expression As China Cancels Preseason Broadcasts - Adam Zagoria - Forbes
- The NBA’s Convenient “Non-political” Stance Comes at a Cost - Brian Phillips - The Ringer
- Ten questions about Daryl Morey, the Rockets, Tillman Fertitta, Joe Tsai, and China - Henry Abbott - TrueHoop
- The NBA Is Going to Have to Choose - Jemele Hill - The Atlantic
- Brooklyn Nets’ NBA community event in Shanghai abruptly cancelled by government as China political storm rages on - Patrick Blennerhassett - South China Morning Post