NBA and China

Daryl Morey, the general manager of the NBA’s Houston Rockets, wrote a Tweet that has since been deleted regarding ongoing protests in Hong Kong. The fallout of this Tweet, which was followed with responses from Tilman Fertitta (owner of the Rockets) and the NBA, has created some questions about the NBA’s activities in China.

Morey’s post originally read: “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.”

Fertitta’s response was generally just to clarify that Morey does not speak for the Rockets, nor are the Houston Rockets a political organization.

The Consulate General of the People’s Republic of China in Houston also chipped in through a spokesperson, saying they were “deeply shocked by the erroneous comments on Hong Kong” and asked the franchise to “take immediate concrete measures to eliminate the adverse impact.”

Morey wrote a new Tweet on Sunday (Oct. 6), adding that he did not intend any misunderstanding or offence.

The NBA also issued two statements, one in English and the other in Mandarin. The English version states the NBA recognized Morey’s tweet “offended so many of our friends and fans in China, which is regrettable.” The Mandarin version of the statement was a little different. It called Morey’s post “inappropriate” and “undoubtedly seriously hurt the feelings of our Chinese fans.”

Here’s the thing though. Morey’s thoughts on the Hong Kong protests were not inappropriate or erroneous.

Morey was right to applaud Hong Kong’s fight for self-determination. The protests began after the 2019 Hong Kong extradition bill (also known as the Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2018) was proposed in February. The bill, if passed, would allow the transfers of fugitives between Taiwan, China and Macau, which are all excluded in existing laws.

The concern is that Hong Kong would put the people of the city at risk of becoming victims of a different legal system (that of mainland China). There were also concerns from human rights groups (Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor) that the new amendment would be used to silence and intimidate critics of the Chinese and Hong Kong governments, particularly journalists.

The NBA should be criticized for their take on this.

The NBA is a business with monetary needs and China definitely provides that. It’s the country with the largest population in the world, it makes a lot of sense for the NBA to be invested in its economy via jersey/merchandise sales, hosting NBA games there, and building fanbases there. It’s something the NHL, MLB and NFL are doing, not just in China but around the world.

However, the NBA should not tweet its support for an imperialist system, signalling its desire for Chinese currency, more so than the importance of human rights.

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