Chinese state television lifts yearlong ban on NBA games, but nationalists want it to stay

Domestic News

China Central Television (CCTV), the Chinese state broadcaster, announced on Friday that it would televise Game 5 of the 2020 NBA finals, roughly a year after the network pulled the league off the air in response to a tweet by a Houston Rockets executive supporting protesters in Hong Kong.

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Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis will be back on Chinese TV: CCTV 5 said that the network would air the game between the Lakers and the Miami Heat live on October 10. Reuters/Kim Klement.

China Central Television (CCTV), the Chinese state broadcaster, announced on Friday that it would televise Game 5 of the 2020 NBA finals, roughly a year after the network pulled the league off the air in response to a tweet by a Houston Rockets executive supporting protesters in Hong Kong.

In an on-air announcement (in Chinese) made today, a news anchor at CCTV 5, the station’s sports channel, said that the network would air the game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Miami Heat live on October 10.

Following the announcement, a spokesperson with CCTV explained in a statement (in Chinese) that given the “immense popularity of basketball in China” and “high viewing demand” among Chinese NBA fans, the network resuming the broadcasting of NBA games was a “normal arrangement.”

He also said that the decision was taken owing in big part to the league’s help with combating the COVID-19 pandemic in China and its “unwavering kindness” to Chinese fans, which was exemplified by it sending holiday wishes over the recent Chinese National Day and Mid-Autumn Festival.

CCTV’s change of course came roughly one year after its ban on showing NBA games was put in place. China and the N.B.A. have been at loggerheads since last October, when Daryl Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets, tweeted a pro-democracy message in support of the Hong Kong protests. The fallout from the tweet intensified after NBA Commissioner Adam Silver defended Morey’s freedom of expression and revealed that China had exerted pressure on the league to fire the Houston Rockets executive.

The controversial tweet and Silver’s remarks quickly set off a firestorm of retaliatory responses from Chinese officials, who ordered the Chinese Basketball Association to suspend all cooperation with the Rockets, as well as banned NBA games from the country’s public airwaves.

CCTV was one of the Chinese entities that hit back against the NBA by cutting ties. Others included Tencent, the league’s exclusive digital partner in China, and smartphone maker Vivo, which was a key sponsor for NBA exhibition games in the country.

But Tencent’s NBA broadcast suspension turned out to be short-lived. When the company quietly resumed online broadcasts of NBA games in mid-October, it faced severe criticism for protecting its financial interest at the expense of national pride and unity.

ESPN noted that CCTV’s decision was “a major step in improving relations between the NBA and China” after visible signs of reconciliation started to appear this year. Back in February, In an emailed statement to the New York Times, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said that the league was willing to “provide whatever assistance” it could to the people of China in response to the coronavirus outbreak. In the same interview, Silver also revealed that the financial losses caused by the rift were “substantial,” hundreds of millions of dollars. Shortly after the interview, Chinese consul general Huang Ping said in a media briefing that he was grateful for the $1.4 million donations made by the NBA to Hubei Province, where the virus first emerged.

However, not everyone was impressed by the NBA’s efforts to amend its relationship with China. On Chinese social media, a large number of people are still calling on Silver and Morey to apologize. “Silver never publicly condemned Morey’s remarks. Morey never apologized for what he said. And the fact that the league never punished them speaks volumes about its approval of their opinions,” a Weibo user wrote.

In the wake of CCTV’s announcement, the network has received a backlash similar to what Tencent experienced when it resumed its coverage of NBA games last year. Despite a small number of domestic NBA fans who applauded the decision, most of the responses were negative and accused CCTV of being “spineless” and “unpatriotic.”

Many of the critics argued that the announcement stood in stark contrast to what the network said in May, when it denied rumors of it being in touch with the NBA and vowed to have a “clear and coherent” stance on issues regarding China’s sovereignty. “I will not watch the game even though it’s on television. And I have to say: CCTV has no spine!” a Weibo user commented (in Chinese).