Adam Silver discusses ‘complicated’ relationship between NBA, China

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Last year’s NBA Finals were back on the air in China. A handful of games (such as the All-Star Game) have appeared on state-run television, but primarily it’s been younger viewers streaming games in the world’s most populous nation.

That’s good business for the NBA, but the league’s relationship with China is “complicated,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver told Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski on his SiriusXM show “Basketball and Beyond with Coach K.” Those complications tie back to more than just the Daryl Morey Tweet on Hong Kong and reaction by China, the NBA is a business caught in the wash of the global trade and power conflicts between the two superpowers.

Here is how Silver described it:

“I’ll begin by saying, of course it’s complicated. And at the end of the day, we’re a U.S. company and we’re going to follow, you know, American policy towards China. And, you know, whether it was the Trump administration, the Biden administration, at least so far, they’ve still been encouraging trade.

“And, you know, ultimately we’re an export business. We export American basketball to China, and I would say what comes with it is American culture as well, and that, you know, my personal feeling is when I look at the mission of the NBA, which is to improve people’s lives through basketball, I think continuing to operate in China is completely consistent with our mission. To your point, putting aside how you define a fan, we have hundreds of millions of people in China who watch NBA basketball over the course of the year.”

“And I, you know, as a former political science major from Duke University, I’m still a believer in soft power. I think these cultural exchanges are critically important. I think it’s an opportunity through sports as you well know, having traveled the world, you know, for Duke and for USA Basketball and for Army, that it’s a way of building commonality among people through sports. Frankly, I’m pleased to hear that no one’s calling for a boycott right now. Not no one, but the administration is not calling for a boycott of the Beijing Olympics, you know, coming up in two years. I think that, you know, especially when tensions are even higher as they are right now between us and China, you know, unless somehow we’re truly going to go our own way, which seems impossible in this interconnected world, that basketball, sports, culture, are an opportunity to bring people together.”

“So the relationship has gotten more complicated than it used to be. Certainly since we were there many years ago for I guess was the 2008 Olympics. But I also think frankly, the future of the world depends on these two superpowers, the U.S. and China figuring out a way to work with each other. It doesn’t mean we don’t speak up about what we see are, you know, things in China that are inconsistent with our values, you know, and that we don’t continue to support players’ ability to speak out on things that are important to them.

“But, you know, at least right now we continue to operate in China. Again, and, our games are not being shown right now on CCTV in China, but there’s a streaming service called Tencent that’s how people are seeing our games right now. And again, as I said, I think it’s something that still remains important culturally for us to continue doing.”

It’s good business for the NBA to be in China — part of the boom in NBA franchise rights is the potential for international growth for the league. Nowhere is that more true than China. The NBA has the best players, and it pushes them to play at a higher level than anywhere on the globe — the way soccer fans globally tune into the Premier League in England or La Liga in Spain to watch the best of the best, they tune into the NBA.

Culturally it is a somewhat different discussion, with some people pushing an “America First” protectionist ideology — favored by the Trump administration — and others pushing for more globalization. I think Silver finds the right balance here — the NBA does export American culture with its game, and that’s good for the league and the nation. The world and its global trade will never return to the more isolationist trends of the previous century, an ideal that was never close to as rosy as some wish to remember it. Corporations are now global, business is global, but balancing American interests with that is an open discussion our nation needs to have—one with no easy answers.

The NBA is part of that discussion, and Silver approached it with thought and nuance. That’s a good thing.

Silver and Krzyzewski also discuss the NBA’s bubble, COVID protocols and the 2020-21 season, the return of fans to arenas, and much more. To check out the full interview, look at SiriusXM for air dates and times, or download the podcast.

As he chases record, LeBron says he has ‘no relationship’ with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Sacramento Kings v Los Angeles Lakers
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Later this season, health permitting, LeBron James will pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer.

Kareem has said LeBron has earned it, but also has called out LeBron on COVID issues (something Abdul-Jabbar apologized for). Have the two legends started to build a relationship as LeBron marches toward the record? Not so much.

“No thoughts, no relationship.”

This question was asked of LeBron days after Abdul-Jabbar slammed former LeBron teammate Kyrie Irving in a Substack newsletter, calling him a “comical buffoon” and saying he is a poor role model. Abdul-Jabbar has been a vocal proponent of getting the vaccine, Irving remains unvaccinated, and LeBron has posted on social media questioning the severity of the virus and the response. Plus, LeBron and Irving are friends, which could have sparked LeBron’s terse response (as could the fact he was ready to get out of the arena after a dull preseason game).

A week earlier at media day, LeBron had been kinder when discussing Abdul-Jabbar and chasing his record.

“And you know, obviously Kareem has had his differences, with some of my views and some of the things that I do. But listen, at the end of the day, to be able to be right in the same breath as a guy to wear the same [Lakers] uniform, a guy that was a staple of this franchise along with Magic and Big Game [James Worthy] over there for so many years, especially in the 80s, and a guy that does a lot off the floor as well,” LeBron said. “I think it’s just super duper dope for myself to be even in that conversation.”

Abdul-Jabbar has been more of a public persona in recent years, both around the game of basketball and discussing social justice issues through his writings. The NBA named its new social justice award after him. With that has come new relationships around the league.

One of those is not with LeBron. Will Abdul-Jabbar be in the building when LeBron does break the record?

We’ve got months for this relationship to evolve — if it does — before that big day.

 

Watch Zion Williamson score 13 in return to court for Pelicans

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Zion Williamson is back.

He certainly looked in better shape and flashed his insane explosiveness on his way to 13 points and four rebounds in 15 minutes Tuesday night against the Bulls, his first game after missing all of last season following foot surgery.

There was some rust, and the Pelicans are wisely bringing him along slowly and not breaking out the entire playbook for a preseason game, but in the moments we saw Zion looked like he was all the way back.

The questions now are can he sustain it, and how to the Pelicans mesh him with other scoring options in CJ McCollum and Brandon Ingram.

And maybe we shouldn’t leave rookie Dyson Daniels off that list, he looked good in his first NBA preseason game.

The Pelicans are one of the most intriguing teams this season, a team that made the playoffs last season with a push after McCollum arrived, and now they add the elite interior scoring and athleticism of Zion to Ingram’s outside shot and slashing, not to mention and a solid core of role players. This team has top six potential if it can get stops. But in a deep West, nothing will be easy.

Wembanyama scores 37, Scoot Henderson 28, as both make case to go No.1

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The NBA league office hates tanking — the action, the word, the mere suggestion of it.

But there is going to be some serious tanking in the NBA this season, and anybody who watched the Victor Wembanyama vs. Scoot Henderson game Tuesday (also known as the G-league Ignite vs.  Metropolitans 92 from France) knows exactly why.

What. A. Show.

Victor Wembanyama, the projected No. 1 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, showed why he is a true 7’4″ unicorn who can do seemingly anything. He finished the game with 37 points, hitting 7-of-11 from 3, with five blocks, showed off some handles and even brought the ball up court a couple of times.

This play sums him up well: at 7’4″ Wembanyama is the ball handler in a pick-and-roll, looks smooth, and when the defender goes under the pick casually drains a 3.

Scoot Henderson, expected to go No.2 in the next draft, flashed his explosive athleticism to the tune of 28 points, nine assists, and five rebounds.

Ja Morant was impressed.

There was a lot for fans, scouts, and GMs to be impressed with.

For all his shooting an offensive game, Wembanyama was just as impressive on defense. His length and mobility forces players to change their driving angles to the rim. He also showed a fearlessness in going after the big block.

Henderson showed high-level athleticism and an ability to get to the rim at will, but he also set up teammates and an improving shot. Henderson is a dynamic athlete and a season playing against the men of the G League is only going to sharpen his skills.

Henderson made his case Tuesday to be the No.1 pick — scouts say he has the potential to be a franchise cornerstone point guard, a top-10 player in the league, and he looked it in this game. He showed no fear, even going at Wembanyama a few times.

However, Wembanyama will go No.1 because he just breaks the mold, there is nobody like him. Anywhere. He looks like a generational talent, even if there is some work to do to realize it. Wembanyama started to show that Tuesday night.

These two teams face off again on Thursday night in Henderson, Nevada.

Royce O’Neal on Durant, Irving trade rumors: ‘That was the summer’

Philadelphia 76ers v Brooklyn Nets
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The Brooklyn Nets are trying to move on from a turbulent, awkward summer where their two best players tried to get tradedone throwing down a “me or the coach and GM” ultimatum — and they are tired of talking about it.

It sounds like they have moved on from the Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving drama in the locker room, at least based on what Royce O’Neal told Michael Scotto of Hoopshype.

“That was the summer. Nobody cares about it now. We’re all here, and we’re going to make it work. We have a lot of work to do to get to where we want to go. That’s what we’re focusing on.”

No doubt that is the mantra in the locker room, and it’s easy to do during the carefree, optimistic days of training camp or even the first preseason games. The players believe they have moved on.

The real question about these Nets is what happens when adversity hits? And it will hit, it does every team. How will Ben Simmons handle the stress? Irving? Can coach Steve Nash keep the Nets all on task, or will the finger-pointing start, and will the locker room get split?

Those questions are why everyone is finding it hard to predict these Nets — they could win a ring, they could have Durant demanding a trade again by Christmas. Most likely they land in the middle somewhere, but every possibility is on the table.

Speaking of teams being broken up, Scotto also asked about O’Neal’s former team, the Utah Jazz, and Danny Ainge’s decision to trade Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell this summer. Ainge said “this team didn’t believe in each other,” but that’s not how O’Neal saw it. He was surprised the team was blown up.

“I was definitely shocked. I had been there for five years. The team we had for a couple of years fell short. I thought we were going to build on it. Things happened, so keep it moving.”

The question is will the Nets keep moving when things get hard?