Questions Remain On NBA-China Relationship Heading Into Season
The NBA-China controversy continues to hover over the league as the '19-20 season begins tonight, but there remains a "lot of uncertainty as far as what the next steps are" in the relationship, according to The Athletic's Shams Charania. Many teams are "monitoring whether CCTV will start to broadcast" games again after it pulled the league in the aftermath of Daryl Morey's tweet. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and other league execs are in "constant communication with Chinese officials on where this is going, but there's no doubt there's uncertainty where this relationship stands" ("Power Lunch," CNBC, 10/21). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Ben Cohen reports Silver reiterated that the league "won't be cutting ties" with China despite the ongoing controversy. Silver said, "I hear some people saying that we should disengage from China, and I respectfully disagree. ... My personal belief is that isolationism doesn't make sense in this highly interconnected world. We have no choice but to engage and to attempt to have better understanding of other cultures and try to work through issues. What better way than through sports?" However, Silver admitted, "In the language of diplomacy, we do not have official relationships again yet with our counterparts in China. I'm hoping that as two weeks have now gone by, and there seem to be further signals of de-escalation, that we can begin renewing those relationships." Silver "rejected the notion that the league should not have a presence in a country of 1.4 billion people." He called those suggestions "cartoonish characterizations of business." Silver: "It's been part of the DNA of this league over a long period of time to export this game to the far corners of the planet" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 10/22).
NO-WIN SITUATION? THE RINGER's John Gonzalez wrote this a "lose-lose situation for the NBA." If the league "stands for democratic values and supports Morey and others like him who speak up on social issues, it will further anger China." If the NBA "tries to repair the relationship with China in the interest of bottom-line business, it will anger everyone on the domestic political spectrum." There is "no middle ground here, and the line is too fine for anyone to walk, no matter how careful they try to be with their language." Even the "most deft crisis management strategy probably wouldn't make this thing go away anytime soon." It is "fair to wonder whether things will calm down enough on the ground in Hong Kong -- and, accordingly, in the stands here in the States -- for the desired reset to take place" (THERINGER.com, 10/21).
A THOUGHTFUL VOICE: In Dallas, Brad Townsend notes one NBA figure that is an advocate for players and executives' freedom of speech is former Mavericks President Frank Zaccanelli, who was "instrumental in the Mavericks' negotiations with the Chinese government" that resulted in Mavs '99 second-round pick Wang Zhizhi "becoming the first Chinese-born player to come to the NBA" in '01. Zaccanelli said that he "hopes at least some NBA owners step forward to support" freedom of speech in the wake of Morey's tweet. Zaccanelli: "What they have to do is take a stand for freedom and equality and all of the things they have said forever that they stand for. If it hampers our relationship with China, so be it. That's the only solution that's out there" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 10/22). NBC NEWS' Dylan Byers notes Mavs Owner Mark Cuban "stood by Silver last night" at the WSJ Tech Live event. Cuban said Morey "can say whatever he wants" (NBCNEWS.com, 10/22).
TIME TO FOCUS ON THE GAMES: Turner Sports Exec VP & Chief Content Officer Craig Barry implied that TNT during its NBA coverage is not planning to spend a lot of time on what happened in China. He said, "The NBA and China topic is a news story, and it will be addressed during our show, but I don't anticipate it being a concentrated focus." He said the show will focus on NBA storylines viewers should expect to see unfold during the season, like the amount of player movement in the offseason and predictions of who will make the Finals. He said, "We don't filter our guys. They're going to be informed and they're going to have perspectives." It is obvious that broadcasters don't feel they have anything to gain with this topic. TV execs generally do not think the NBA audience cares about this delicate issue with their rights partner. That is why it will be interesting to see what TNT's Charles Barkley says on air tonight. He is one of the rare on-air personalities that has yet to be muzzled (John Ourand, SBJ Media). TNT's Reggie Miller acknowledged LeBron James' comments on China "added some international flair." But he added, "Once you jump the ball, no one will be talking about LeBron and his comments." TNT's Stan Van Gundy: "What happened with the China thing was in the preseason, when no one cares about basketball that time of year and it's all about generating story lines. ... When the ball goes up, it'll be about the rivalry between the Lakers and Clippers" (L.A. TIMES, 10/21).