The NBA wants to make money in China and be seen as allowing its employees to express their views. That got complicated when Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted support for Hong Kong protesters.
The league issued a weak statement that mostly genuflected toward China and partially supported Morey sharing his views. Now, NBA commissioner Adam Silver is painting a fuller picture of the league’s stance.
Silver, via Joel Fitzpatrick of Kyodo News:
“There is no doubt, the economic impact is already clear,” he said. “There have already been fairly dramatic consequences from that tweet, and I have read some of the media suggesting that we are not supporting Daryl Morey, but in fact we have.”
“I think as a values-based organization that I want to make it clear…that Daryl Morey is supported in terms of his ability to exercise his freedom of expression.”
“There are the values that have been part of this league from its earliest days, and that includes free expression,” he said.
“I accept that it is also Chinese governments’ and Chinese businesses’ right to react to those words and, at least from my long-time experience in the NBA, it will take some time to heal some of these issues.”
“As complex as I understood these issues were, as I talked to them I realize how emotional they are, and how careful the league needs to be.”
The NBA is a business trying to make money. Never lose sight of that.
That’s why the league is trying to heal relations with an authoritarian Chinese regime. There’s a lot of money to be made in China when not blacklisted. However backlash to Morey’s tweet cuts into the NBA’s revenue, the league would like to minimize the financial hit.
We should be supporting the Hong Kong protesters, as Morey urged. They’re fighting for their freedoms.
Instead, Silver is emphasizing how “careful” the NBA must be – careful to protect its bottom line. The league is supporting Morey, but only to the extend deemed permissible given the greater business concerns.
Nets owner Joe Tsai tried to do damage control with his own statement, which echoed China’s official stance. He called the protesters a separatist movement, though most protesters have denied that they’re seeking independence. Tsai also claimed, “1.4 billion Chinese citizens stand united when it comes to the territorial integrity of China and the country’s sovereignty over her homeland. This issue is non-negotiable.” I have a hard time believing all 1.4 billion Chinese citizens agree.
“I would like to believe, as a combination of Daryl Morey’s tweet and Joe Tsai’s response, that many sports fans that don’t pay all that much attention to politics, or to the situation in China and Hong Kong, may as a result know far more now about the situation.”
I agree wholeheartedly with Silver. Whatever financially motivated stance the NBA takes, Morey’s tweet – and even Tsai’s response, which I have issues with – will raise awareness of the situation. The continuing discussion will ultimately be a good thing.
Free speech is so important.