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NBA stands firm as CCTV cuts preseason broadcasts and brands flee

Two days after the NBA groveled to Chinese fans over a tweet by Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey that supported Hong Kong protesters and sparked outrage on Chinese social media, Chinese state broadcaster CCTV has hit the basketball league with a complete blackout of all preseason games. CNBC reports that “Tencent, which owns the digital streaming rights for NBA in China, said it would also ‘temporarily suspend’ the preseason broadcast arrangements.”

“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,” the CCTV statement read, according to CNBC. Here is a link to the statement on Weibo.

In a change of tactics, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver released a statement that reads, in part:

Values of equality, respect and freedom of expression have long defined the NBA — and will continue to do so…

It is inevitable that people around the world — including from America and China — will have different viewpoints over different issues. It is not the role of the NBA to adjudicate those differences.

However, 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.

Silver is now in Japan, and will travel to China tomorrow in hopes of defusing the conflict, the New York Times reports:

In a news conference before a separate preseason game between the Rockets and the Toronto Raptors being held in Tokyo on Tuesday, Silver said the cancellation was unexpected, and a community outreach event scheduled to take place at a school in Shanghai also had been canceled.

“I think it’s unfortunate,” Silver said. “But if that’s the consequences of us adhering to our values, we still feel it’s critically important we adhere to those values.”

The two games scheduled for this week feature LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers against the Brooklyn Nets. The Nets are owned by Joe Tsai, the billionaire co-founder of the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba. In a lengthy Facebook post, Tsai criticized Morey’s tweet as damaging to the N.B.A. in China.

Silver said that he would still travel to Shanghai on Wednesday and that it was his hope to meet with Chinese government officials to try to defuse the conflict.

“But I’m a realist as well, and I recognize that this issue may not die down so quickly,” Silver said.

It won’t die down quickly, indeed. Brands continue to cut ties with the NBA — mind you, the whole league, not just the Houston Rockets, whose GM posted and quickly deleted one tweet seen to be offensive — including Luckin Coffee and the sportswear brand Anta, according to the New York Times. Smartphone brand Vivo also cut ties, Reuters reports.

At least one other company is self-censoring to avoid the NBA’s fate, Deadspin reports: “Chuck Salituro, the senior news director of ESPN, sent a memo to shows mandating that any discussion of the Daryl Morey story avoid any political discussions about China and Hong Kong, and instead focus on the related basketball issues.”

Lucas Niewenhuis

Lucas Niewenhuis is an associate editor at SupChina who helps curate daily news and produce the company's newsletter, app, and website content. Previously, Lucas researched China-Africa relations at the Social Science Research Council and interned at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. He has studied Chinese language and culture in Shanghai and Beijing, and is a graduate of the University of Michigan.

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