The NBA’s relationship with China — which dates back to the 1980s — is in as bad a spot as it has been in decades following a Tweet by Rockets GM Daryl Morey last fall supporting the protestors in Hong Kong. NBA games have not been shown on state television in China all season following that.
Heading into the height of an election season, Sen. Marsha Blackburn, a Republican from Tennessee, has decided to try to make the NBA’s relationship with China a political football.
Blackburn sent a letter to Adam Silver with this statement (Sports Illustrated obtained the letter):
“While the NBA has worked hard to raise awareness of social issues at home, there is concern that the league has turned a blind eye to human rights abuses committed abroad—even bowing down to pressure last year. The actions of the NBA and some players have created an appearance that your league prioritizes profit over principle.”
The letter finishes with three questions.
1. What are the anticipated financial consequences of China Central Television’s (CCTV) continued ban on the airing of NBA games?
2. Please outline the scope of the NBA’s relationship with Chinese state-owned enterprise Alibaba.
3. The NBA reportedly continues to operate a training center Xinjiang, one of the world’s worst humanitarian zones. What steps is the NBA taking to shutter this location?
Of course, there are no secrets here, but this isn’t really about fact-finding, it’s about trying to make some political noise. It’s not a thoughtful discussion, it’s an attempt to score points, both with a subset of voters and the current presidential administration. China and our nation’s relationship with it is a Republican talking point in this election year. The NBA is a convenient target.
For the record, Silver has said previously that the NBA stands to lose close to $400 million from what happened with China at the start of the season, which is a lot of money but seems trivial now compared to the losses from the league having to shut down due to the coronavirus.
Also, Joseph Tsai, the owner of the Brooklyn Nets, is one of the co-founders of Alibaba.
None of this is a secret, this is simply Blackburn trying to score political points and carry the water of the Republican party, which is not a fan of the NBA and its players’ very public support of the Black Lives Matter movement and with it police reform around the nation. Especially when NBA teams are taking steps like turning an arena into a polling place in the heart of battleground areas such as the heart of Atlanta.
One would think if national security were at the top of Blackburn’s list of concerns there may be other issues she would want to explore right now not tied to a professional sports league.