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Volume 27 No. 4
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NBA's Response To China Drawing Backlash From U.S. Politicians

The NBA's efforts to "distance itself from the Hong Kong protests" following Rockets GM Daryl Morey's controversial tweet were "met with criticism back home, where the pro-democracy movement is viewed favorably by both Democrats and Republicans," according to Deb & Stein of the N.Y. TIMES (10/7). YAHOO SPORTS' Jack Baer wrote under the header, "NBA Draws Bipartisan Political Condemnation For Yielding To China Over Rockets GM's Tweet" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 10/6). U.S. Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) was one of the first lawmakers to weigh in on Twitter in regard to the NBA's statement, writing, "It's clear that the @NBA is more interested in money than human rights. Tonight's statement from Commissioner Silver is an absolute joke. The NBA is kowtowing to Beijing to protect their bottom line and disavowing those with the temerity to #stand with HongKong. Shameful!" U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) wrote, "As a lifelong @HoustonRockets fan, I was proud to see @dmorey call out the Chinese Communist Party's repressive treatment of protesters in Hong Kong. Now, in pursuit of big $$, the @nba is shamefully retreating. We're better than this; human rights shouldn't be for sale & the NBA shouldn't be assisting Chinese communist censorship." Democratic Presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke tweeted, "The only thing the NBA should be apologizing for is their blatant prioritization of profits over human rights. What an embarrassment" (THEHILL.com, 10/6). U.S. Rep. and Presidential candidate Julian Castro (D-Texas) on Twitter wrote, "China is using its economic power to silence critics -- even those in the U.S. The United States must lead with our values and speak out for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, and not allow American citizens to be bullied by an authoritarian government." U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) retweeted Castro and responded, "Julian, glad to agree with you on this one" (POLITICO.com, 10/6).

STRADDLING THE FENCE: The N.Y. TIMES' Deb & Stein note by "walking back his comments, Morey and the Rockets have exposed themselves -- as well as the league -- to a backlash domestically, since the apology runs counter to the NBA's reputation as a sports league that encourages free speech and commentary on politics and other social issues" (N.Y. TIMES, 10/7). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Ben Cohen writes under the header, "The NBA Feels A Backlash In China After A Tweet Supporting Hong Kong" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 10/7). CNBC's Jim Cramer said, “Some people feel that they have sold out the people of Hong Kong on the altar of big money.” CNBC’s David Faber: “The NBA has encouraged its players, perhaps more than any other sports league, to speak openly. We’ve seen a number of prominent NBA stars talking about issues of the day here in the United States, so it is not that uncommon to expect that you could express your opinion. But in this case, the Chinese, one tweet, the Chinese come back hard" ("Squawk on the Street," CNBC, 10/7). CNBC's Andrew Ross Sorkin: “The NBA had long been seen as handling some of the issues in the United States on the court better, for example, than the NFL. There was a whole view that somehow the NFL was not allowing players to express their own views ... for commercial purposes to some degree. This is in very many ways a geopolitical version of that.” CNBC's Joe Kernen: “The quest for freedom and everything that we have here can wait because we’ve got some big dough to earn over in China right now as the NBA. That's what this is all about.” Kernen: “You can view this whole NBA story very cynically” ("Squawk Box," CNBC, 10/7). 

CAUGHT IN A CULTURE BATTLE: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Jason Gay writes the NBA is "trying to thread a needle here, protecting its business interests while attempting to stay true to its self-touted principles." However, that has "not gone well." Gay: "China does not appear impressed, and back home, the NBA is getting clobbered for what looks a lot like fealty" (WSJ.com, 10/7). BLOOMBERG NEWS' Wallbank & Cang note the league "finds itself caught between two cultures" in a situation that threatens expansion efforts in its "most important international market." For the Chinese, the controversy is seen as the "latest example of a Western organization challenging the nation's sovereignty over its territory." At stake is a business that has been "notching double-digit growth in China every year" since '08 (BLOOMBERG NEWS, 10/6). The Ringer's Bill Simmons noted this is the "most fascinating NBA story in a couple of years, maybe since" Donald Sterling was forced to sell the Clippers in '14. Simmons said, "China is so important to (the NBA's) business. Not only a franchise like the Rockets -- that since Yao Ming was on the team, they’ve had this huge foot hole into China -- but for the individual guys that have gone over there like Kobe, Curry, people like that. They’re having games over there. They’re trying to show these games and do these broadcast deals. They just brought in Joe Tsai to be the Nets owner and this was the kind of big economic windfall place for them that they had been looking at. This and India were the two big places for them, but especially China. And with one tweet, this has turned into one of the craziest NBA stories we’ve had” ("The Bill Simmons Podcast," THERINGER.com, 10/7).

SENDING A MESSAGE? SI.com's Chris Mannix notes the Chinese market is a "basketball starved country that generates hundreds of millions in revenue each year." Mannix: "The foundation of the NBA's relationship with China is simple: Money, and a whole lot of it." Ben Rhodes, a former Deputy National Security Advisor under President Obama, said, "This will be a thing. ... It's not uncommon for the Chinese government to pressure Western businesses to stay silent on human rights. ... It looks like they're making the Rockets an example to send a message to the NBA" (SI.com, 10/7).