What next for the NBA in China?

Society & Culture

After six days of full-court pressure on the NBA because Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey had tweeted his support for Hong Kong protesters, China relented on October 10, telling state media outlets to "cool down" their coverage. But the NBA still has a huge amount at stake in China, and one critical comment on China from a player or coach could land the whole league in trouble again.

Photo credit: SupChina illustration

After six days of full-court pressure on the NBA because Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey had tweeted his support for Hong Kong protesters, China relented on October 10, sending out a censorship directive to state media organizations to “cool down and do not hype related topics.”

But that was not before:

Amid the intense backlash on the entire league to a tweet from a single team’s GM, NBA commissioner Adam Silver insisted that “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.”

This was a “noble, and potentially expensive, sentiment,” wrote Matt DeButts on SupChina. Silver’s delineation of “the people of China” — and their genuine passion for NBA basketball — and the Chinese government and its harsh censorship of political speech was also admirable.

Cooler for now, but will it stay that way?

Maybe Silver’s stand wasn’t that expensive, after all: A preseason game between the Brooklyn Nets and the Los Angeles Lakers went ahead despite the tensions, and Tencent has recently agreed to resume streaming of NBA games.

But the NBA still has a huge amount at stake in China, and as Tom Ziller at SBNation writes, “[Steve] Kerr and [Gregg] Popovich, wise and conscious of their images as worldly truth-speakers, could decide now that all NBA players are out of the country, they can be more critical of China.” Then, everything the NBA has invested in China could be at risk again.

To learn more, see our related article, The NBA’s operations in China, explained.