Silver: NBA Will Get "Back On Track" In China Despite Turmoil
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver believes the league will get "back on track" in China but reiterated there "needs to be mutual respect on both sides." Silver, appearing this morning on ESPN's "Get Up," said, "Mutual respect for our system and respect for their system if we are going to play in their country. ... Everybody has made their points now, and now that they understand, it's not a secret in China how we operate." Silver said it was a "tense situation" with the Lakers and Nets preseason games in China in the wake of Rockets GM Daryl Morey's Hong Kong tweet. Silver said, "We all came together -- both teams, coaches, all the staff that were in town -- and we talked through it and my point to the players was that we're partners. We have a huge investment in China, we've been at this for a long time and how do you guys collectively feel about what we should do and the consensus in the room was, 'We're here to play games, we should play those games.'" Silver added that his reaction to some of the players' comments was that they had been "put in an incredibly unfair situation," despite the fact that LeBron James has an "incredible track record of doing things that have changes people's lives." Silver: "It's been no-win for a lot of those players so I'm very sympathetic" ("Get Up," ESPN, 10/21).
WASN'T A PROBLEM BEFORE: BLEACHER REPORT's Howard Beck wrote the sports world has been "mining the lucrative Chinese market, with its 1.4 billion potential consumers, for years, while collectively averting its gaze from all the unpleasant entanglements that come with it," and yet "no one demanded a political stand from the leagues and athletes who passed through ... until now." The NBA has been "involved in China for 40 years." China is "no different today than it was" in '08, when NBA China was launched, or in '04, when the NBA played its first preseason games there, or in '79, when it staged its first exhibition game there. China was a "human-rights violator" when Beijing hosted the '08 Games, and when it was awarded the '22 Games. Across the political spectrum, people are "charging the NBA with hypocrisy, greed and self-interest." However, "so much of the backlash is disingenuous, or fantastically simplistic." The NBA is, "at its core, a business." Like any other business, it "exists to make money." To expect NBA players and coaches to "wade into an international firestorm and undermine their employer is probably asking too much." Beck: "Is there some self-interest at work? Sure. But we all make those kinds of calculations every day" (BLEACHERREPORT.com, 10/19).
BUSINESS AS USUAL: ESPN.com's Fainaru-Wada & Malinowski noted the NBA's numbers in China "reveal why leagues have persisted in trying to find their footing there." Plainly, there is "just so, so much money to be made." Earlier this year, the NBA expanded its deal with Tencent to "stream live games and make an array of content available to the company's one billion users." The new contract, which begins next year, pays the NBA $300M annually for the next five years -- "representing a threefold increase from the previous deal." The NBA also has a "long-standing contract with government-run CCTV to broadcast games live throughout the country, and though the financial specifics of that deal aren't clear, the NBA has suggested that the benefits are enormous." The NBA "makes money in China from corporate sponsorships." There also are NBA "training academies, NBA-themed play zones for kids in malls, NBA-themed 'lifestyle complexes,' an NBA 2K League for gamers, an NBA youth development program and more." On top of all that are the "millions made by individual players through sponsorship contracts with Chinese companies." With the NBA regular season set to start tomorrow and "no word yet on whether games will be streamed by Tencent or aired by CCTV -- or whether any of the sponsors will return -- the NBA's status in China is uncertain" (ESPN.com, 10/19).
MURKY FUTURE: THE ATHLETIC's Shams Charania reported there is "uncertainty about what the next steps will or should be" for the NBA. Sources said that teams are targeting the start of the season as the "next barometer test ... wondering whether China will lift the broadcast ban or if it will continue to blackball telecasts for its millions of viewers." The NBA is a "global game, and fans in China have shown extreme passion over the years toward the league." In theory, though, China's platforms "could pull out of agreements with the league, which would cost millions toward the Basketball Related Income for players and teams" (THEATHLETIC.com, 10/18). A CCTV broadcaster said that Silver "could face 'retribution' for defaming China and supporting" Morey. YAHOO SPORTS' Eric He wrote while this appears like a "bunch of hot air from the mouthpiece of the Chinese government, it is an indication that the two sides are far from reconciling." China stopped broadcasting preseason games and "many sponsors have pulled out." Some games are "back on the airwaves, but it might be a while before the tension dies down" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 10/19).