Before delving into the controversy itself, here’s a brief background of the why and the what:Since June, protests have run rampant in Hong Kong, gradually becoming more violent over time. The protests are over democracy — in particular, an extradition bill, potentially exposing Hong Kong criminal suspects to unfair trials and treatment in mainland China. Ultimately, it would give China heavier influence and potentially facilitate targeted suppression of the Hong Kong people.Hong Kong used to be a British territory but has been a special administrative region of China since 1997. It has autonomy except for anything regarding diplomatic relations and national defense.China has a communist, authoritarian government. It grants limited freedom of speech or press.
Here is a chronology of the ensuing NBA-related events:On Oct. 4, Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey tweeted an image with the words, “fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong.”The Chinese Basketball Association and Houston’s Chinese Consulate denounced Morey.Rockets owner, Tilman Fertitta, distanced himself and the organization from Morey’s comment.Texas politicians got involved.Morey’s job status hung in the balance, as reported by The Ringer’s John Gonzalez.Brooklyn Nets owner, Joseph Tsai, chimed in. Morey issued a mea culpa.Steve Kerr, consummate voice of reason, gave his two-cents.James Harden tried walking everything back to save face with the Chinese fans.
The fact it’s the Rockets adds another layer. Houston functioned in a pseudo-ambassadorial role to China ever since drafting Yao Ming.
The NBA prides itself on being progressive, socially conscious and expanding its international reach. But how will it navigate foreign diplomacy between two power countries with disparate governments and policies, especially when the ramifications can affect the all-important bottom line?
In his first statement from over the weekend, NBA commissioner Adam Silver took what was seen as a stance playing both sides. However, he stood firmer and fairer in his second statement from early Tuesday morning, taking an assertively hands-off approach. He used the release’s closing to drive home his point:“It is inevitable that people around the world — including from America and China — will have different viewpoints over different issues. It is not the role of the NBA to adjudicate those differences.
However, the NBA will not put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees and team owners say or will not say on these issues. We simply could not operate that way.
Basketball runs deep in the hearts and minds of our two peoples. At a time when divides between nations grow deeper and wider, we believe sports can be a unifying force that focuses on what we have in common as human beings rather than our differences.”
China Central Television released a statement of its own, saying, “we’re strongly dissatisfied and oppose Adam Silver’s claim to support Morey’s right to freedom of expression. We believe that any remarks that challenge national sovereignty and social stability are not within the scope of freedom of speech.”
A few hours later, Silver came out with a third press release saying he still plans to make his visit to China this week. He reiterated the NBA was apologetic to all those offended but stood by Morey’s freedom to express his beliefs. Silver basically pulled an elevated “sorry, not sorry” but in a nice way and using much more eloquent words.
This is obviously an evolving situation. For now, China stopped all NBA broadcasts and canceled other scheduled events. We’ll see what the next days and weeks hold. Hopefully, cooler heads prevail and relationships get mended.
Perhaps the wildest part in this whole escapade is that South Park did an episode on the very subject DAYS BEFORE IT HAPPENED. So there’s either a break in the simulation or Trey Parker and Matt Stone are oracles.