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Volume 26 No. 181
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Opinions Vary On NBA-China Issue After Silver's Revised Statement

Silver is being praised for his stance on free speech but still taking criticism for the NBA's original statement
Photo: NBAE/GETTY IMAGES
Silver is being praised for his stance on free speech but still taking criticism for the NBA's original statement
Photo: NBAE/GETTY IMAGES
Silver is being praised for his stance on free speech but still taking criticism for the NBA's original statement
Photo: NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver "passed the test" yesterday by stating the NBA would "never regulate the speech of its players, employees and team owners" as the controversy around Daryl Morey's tweet continues to swirl, according to Dylan Byers of NBC NEWS. Moving forward, Silver "faces a different test," as it remains to be seen "how far he will go in leveraging the NBA's power to call China's bluff and quell the dispute" (NBCNEWS.com, 10/9). The AP's Tim Dahlberg writes fans and media should "give Silver credit for standing up for free speech, albeit a bit late" following the league's initial statement. Silver "quickly realized how off-tone his first response was and did his best to at least make it sound better." Freedom of speech "does have its consequences," but the "price paid for backing down on values of a league that has led the way on social issues would be even worse." That is "why it was critical" that while Silver said that he was "sympathetic to the outrage, the league will stick by its principles of free speech." Silver "had to take a stand for a right held dear by most Americans," as there was "no other alternative if he and the league wanted to keep their credibility and self-respect" (AP, 10/9). SI.com's Chris Mannix writes there is "nothing else to say" about the China issue at this point and there is "nothing else Silver can say." He "can’t please everyone" and he "shouldn’t try." Silver "cleaned up the NBA’s first statement and has declared the NBA willing to live with the fallout." The NBA is "standing up to China in the way few U.S. businesses have, and should be commended for it." It "took a couple tries, but the NBA has done the right thing" (SI.com, 10/9).

CAUGHT IN THE MIDDLE: ABC's Tony Llamas noted Silver is "trying to balance the league's $4 billion interest in China with American values" ("World News," ABC, 10/8). In Boston, Gary Washburn writes despite Silver’s personal politics, he is "going to try to distance the league" from Morey's comments and "smooth over the relationship because as 'woke' as the NBA may appear to be, its owners don’t like losing any money." Silver has the "difficult job of thinking about the wealth and growth of a league that has rewarded its owners and players handsomely." The NBA "took a reputation and perception hit here and it’s Silver’s job to lessen the blow." It is "not morally right, but Silver has to protect the financial interest of the league he’s in charge of" (BOSTON GLOBE, 10/9). YAHOO SPORTS' Dan Wetzel wrote while SIlver's statement yesterday stood up for free speech, he "should have said that originally." After all, the Morey tweet "wasn’t regrettable unless viewed through a totalitarian lens." Wetzel: "Besides, trying to be rational with irrational actors doesn’t usually work." Silver is "stuck in the middle, everyone upset at him and his league." It is the apology to China that "put him there" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 10/8). In Hong Kong, Jonathan White writes it is "admirable that their latest statement tries to stand its ground in mounting pressure but they are finding out they cannot play it both ways" (SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST, 10/9).

IS NBA BOWING TO CHINA? In Boston, Renee Graham writes to "appease China, the NBA is collapsing faster than a bottom-dwelling team tanking games to improve its draft position." Cash "triumphed over conscience as the league amassed a hoop-loving fan base in China" (BOSTON GLOBE, 10/9). In DC, Michael Serazio writes under the header, "The NBA Doesn’t Care About China. Or Being ‘Woke.’ It Only Cares About Money" (WASHINGTON POST, 10/9). Also in DC, Kevin Blackistone writes China "purchased whatever soul the NBA had." The country "bought off a league many observers thought in recent years was some sort of paragon to progressivism despite evidence to the contrary." The NBA "effectively told Morey this week to sit down and manage after he spoke up to tyranny" and "Morey complied." It was "disingenuous at best on the NBA’s part and cowardly at worst" (WASHINGTON POST, 10/9). In Detroit, Shawn Windsor writes the NBA has shown this week that "money matters more than principle." The league’s "initial response went against everything it said it stood for." The "backtracking in the latest statement from Silver may be sincere and heartfelt," but it also "may be the kind of cynical, circle-the-wagons reaction we saw from the NFL a few years ago when kneeling during the national anthem began to alienate a large portion of its fan base" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 10/9). Former Deputy White House Press Secretary Tony Fratto said the NBA is "not clear on what their principles are and what they're about." Fratto: "They're uneven in what they expect from their people and their teams. So you can't criticize China but you can criticize Turkey?" ("Power Lunch," CNBC, 10/8).

MORAL STANDARDS: Former North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory called the NBA "hypocritical in how it’s dealing with the demonstrations in Hong Kong vs. how it treated Charlotte and the state" in '16 during the controversy over the "bathroom bill" that led to the '17 All-Star Game being moved. McCrory, who was governor at the time, said, "I see hypocrisy. They wanted to involve themselves with North Carolina commerce and an election, while not setting the same standard for China" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 10/9). In Colorado Springs, Paul Klee writes there is "nothing lost in translation about the NBA’s stance on hypocrisy." The "wokest league known to humankind will yank its All-Star Game out of North Carolina to protest the state’s transgender bathroom bill, but it will apologize to a Communist government where protest puts you in jail." The NBA’s "true colors were exposed again" (Colorado Springs GAZETTE, 10/9).

CALLS FOR NBA TO EXIT CHINA: USA TODAY's Dan Wolken writes, "This much is clear: If the red line for China’s relationship with the NBA is this easily crossed ... how can you expect that relationship to last in the first place?" If one tweet that "isn’t even controversial to an American audience is enough to provoke the Chinese into suspending television deals and various business arrangements" with the Rockets, it is "truly worth wondering whether the NBA can really operate in that kind of environment without walking on political eggshells every time it sends a team over there for a game" (USA TODAY, 10/9). An N.Y. POST editorial states if a "single GM voicing support for Hong Kong protesters is really a 'third-rail issue' for Beijing, as Nets Owner Joe Tsai insists," then the NBA had "better prepare to lose its lucrative China business soon enough." Eventually, the "tyrannical regime will demand too much" (N.Y. POST, 10/9). SI.com's Rohan Nadkarni wrote Silver’s job is to "basically put a friendly face on the money-hungry side of the NBA." He has "done a good job of framing his actions as progressive when they could just as easily be viewed as smart business practices." However, continuing the league’s partnership with China in the wake of the Morey incident "would be a particularly slippery slope." The "only way for the NBA to wash its hands of these issues is to completely move out of China altogether" (SI.com, 10/8).

PATIENCE IS KEY: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Holman Jenkins Jr. writes in business, it "pays not to overreact." China will "not win this battle unless the NBA goes out of its way to let it." The world’s best players will "not stop coming to the world’s premier stage, whereas China can only cut itself off from the most culturally regnant basketball played anywhere on the planet" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 10/9). NBA China VP/Media Distribution Zhang Yujun said, "As a Chinese person who was born and grew up in China ... I want to plead with all Chinese basketball fans, media organizations and NBA business partners to give the NBA more time, and trust that the management of NBA will give you all a satisfactory reply" (SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST, 10/9).