But NBA commissioner Adam Silver is defending his league.
Silver at his press conference before Game 1 of the NBA Finals:
My position is, said this many times, that I think engagement is positive, particularly through sports. I think to keep people safe and prosperous that using sports as a platform to keep people around the world talking is critically important.
I think it’s a positive thing right now that we are exporting this Americana, NBA basketball and the messages that come with it to China.
We stand behind our players and team executives, their right to free expression – whether about issues in the United States or issues any place in the world.
If the consequences are that we’re taken off the air or we lose money, we accept that.
This is a nice sentiment. Hopefully, it’s true. It’d be wonderful if the NBA is helping to spread values such as freedom. It’s a common argument in favor of international trade.
It’s also an argument that happens to align with the league’s money-making interests.
In fairness to Silver, the NBA has missed out on projected hundreds of millions of dollars in China after Daryl Morey tweeted support for Hong Kong protesters (who were trying to maintain and expand their freedom). China took NBA games off state-run television and did so again after Enes Freedom’s more-recent comments (NBA games were still available via the most popular streaming service in China, Tencent, which is how most younger fans watch games anyway).
As Silver noted, practically every large American company does business in China. The NBA generally shouldn’t be singled out for this wider issue.