By Paul Chesser | National Legal and Policy Center
This week there has been a backlash against the National Basketball Association from China, following a tweet supportive of the pro-democracy Hong Kong protests by Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey. After the immediate outcry, Morey deleted the tweet and the NBA and its partners began to grovel apologetically to the Chinese communists. The league has a reported $1.5 billion deal with a Chinese streaming company to broadcast its games, and an estimated 500 million citizens watched games last year.
Viewership isn’t all that’s at stake. Athletic shoe companies such as Adidas and Nike enjoy American support but desperately want to expand their audience and customer base overseas, especially to China. The hostile response to the tweet from the communist government threatens that market segment, where Nike took in an estimated $6.2 billion and Adidas wasn’t far behind them.
We’ve seen the kowtowing to the Chinese communists with American technology companies such as Apple and Google, who have simply argued with something like “we obey the laws of the countries we operate in.” As for the NBA, they just want to grow their already-massive fan base and the accompanying revenues. The same goes for their partner sneaker companies, which want their shoes and apparel worn everywhere.
Thus any support expressed for the Hong Kong freedom advocates – who are embarrassing the communist government on the world stage – presents a conundrum for the NBA, according to Fox Sports 1 host Jason Whitlock.
“I think the cultural impact that China’s influence over a great American sport like basketball is just now being exposed and just how dependent the NBA is on the Chinese economy and Chinese money to put on the appearance of how great the league is doing,” he said to Tucker Carlson on Fox News on Tuesday.
Whitlock explained that the NBA and the shoe companies’ economic interests in the region are intertwined.
“I think the cultural impact that China’s influence over a great sport – a great American sport like basketball – is just now being exposed at just how dependent the NBA is on the Chinese economy and Chinese money to put on the appearance of how great the league is doing…,” he said. “Because you really have to understand the shoe companies — Nike, Adidas — they run American basketball from the high school level all the way to the pros and the shoe companies are dependent on the China market and that’s where all of this is coming from.”
Despite an initial obligatory defense of Morey by NBA commissioner Adam Silver, the overall posture the league, its coaches and its players have taken is scared silence. No one wants to speak against China’s oppression of its people or its thuggery towards Hong Kong.
Players have contracts with the shoe companies too, you know.
“They don’t want to hurt their brand,” said former NBA player Jamal Mashburn to CNBC, who is now a business investor. “They’re being very careful what they say and how they position themselves.”
He added that players are likely being advised by their agents to remain silent on the topic, and are also taking their cues from Silver. Whitlock said the players, via the shoe companies, are valuing Chinese values over the American ones that have enabled their careers and opportunities to flourish.
“You see NBA players constantly over the summer, during their offseason, running to China, to do the bidding of their shoe companies and to sell their shoes in the China market,” Whitlock told Carlson. “And so the NBA is really being exposed as not nearly as much of American business, as it is a global business, with China, perhaps having more influence over it than even America.”
As a result, the young, impressionable players “do the bidding” of the shoe companies who seek the approval of the Chinese communists, who ultimately seek to diminish the appreciation of American culture by characterizing it as racist and unfair.
“They don’t understand how they’re being used and played to promote a communist, a Marxist agenda,” Whitlock said. “They have no idea that their actions and a lot of the things they’re promoting, this victim mentality, and all the identity politics and, ‘Oh everything in America’s racist,’ all of that. It’s all a scam by the shoe companies.”
Illustrating the double standard, the NBA has not been reticent to wield its power and influence with regard to American political issues. In 2016 Silver yanked the All-Star game from Charlotte over the “transgender bathroom” law in North Carolina, which required individuals to use public restrooms based upon their biological gender.
“I see hypocrisy,” said former NC Gov. Pat McCrory earlier this week. “[The NBA] wanted to involve themselves with North Carolina commerce and an election, while not setting the same standard for China. I called them out then, and it’s still true now.”
The NBA has also allowed NBA coaches such as Steve Kerr and Gregg Popovich, and stars like LeBron James, to speak freely on social issues and in criticisms of President Trump, without consequences or concern about the potential loss of any segment of the American purchasing public.
But now, as China has already severed sports and business ties with the Houston Rockets, the NBA and its people are silent to the point of forbidding political signs at games and preventing reporters from asking questions about the controversy. Clearly China’s culture of oppression has overtaken the league, which properly is taking a beating on sports talk radio and from President Trump.
“I watch the way that Kerr, Popovich, and some of the others were pandering to China and yet to our own country, they don’t – it’s like they don’t respect it,” he said.