The NBA hopes to establish a stable relationship with fans in China. The plan was to use exhibition games that featured players who had international fame in China. On paper, it was a good idea. In reality, there have been problems. Before a broken hand sidelined him for three months, Stephen Curry weighed in about the one thing the NBA needs to do to remain successful in China.
Current challenges between the NBA and China
Even though the early communications between China and NBA leaders sounded promising, there would likely have been problems eventually. What brought the situation to a head was the protests in Hong Kong. Daryl Morey, the Houston Rockets’ general manager, tweeted that he supported the anti-government protests. While the tweet has since been deleted, the damage was done.
Members of the Chinese government and the people working to bring the NBA exhibition game to China weren’t happy. The fact that Adam Silver, the NBA’s Commissioner, didn’t blast Morey or say that they didn’t support the Hong Kong protests didn’t help.
In a USA Today article, Adam Silver described the problem and the NBA’s stance.
“Certainly I don’t come here as the commissioner of the NBA and an American to tell others how to run their governments. At the end of the day, though, I am an American, and there are some values that are deeply rooted in the DNA of the NBA. That includes freedom of expression for our employees.”
CNBC reported that Daryl Morey has apologized via Twitter for the reaction his tweet has generated.
“I have always appreciated the significant support our Chinese fans and sponsors have provided, and I would hope that those who are upset will know that offending or misunderstanding them was not my intention. I have had a lot of [opportunities] since that tweet to hear and consider other perspectives. I did not intend my tweet to cause any offense to Rockets fans and friends of mine in China.”
Stephen Curry’s speaks about the controversy
Stephen Curry is a man who has a great deal of experience dealing with both the NBA and Chinese officials. Not only is he the leading spokesperson for the Under Armor basketball shoe, but he also spends a great deal of time in China, where he promotes clothing sales. It’s not surprising that many wanted to know how Curry felt about the controversy. He basically echoed the Adam Silver and the NBA’s official stance.
“Staying true to who we are a league. But figuring out how that plays with all the different connections we have and opportunities we have. Just the way we’ve done business has been great … I think the way that we’ve represented ourselves is positive, more times than not, and sticking with that approach — the collective mindset from Adam Silver all the way down to the last player on the bench, I think that’s been a good vibe and open communication.”
LeBron James’ thoughts on the situation
It’s not surprising that most Americans are interested in what players, both current and past, think about the issues. Shaq and Charles Barkley have shared opposing viewpoints. LeBron James is one of the best known NBA players and also a guy who isn’t shy about sharing his opinion on the NBA, player empowerment, and various players. In this particular situation, he has been quiet. He feels that since this entire situation was the NBA’s idea, the NBA officials who set up the exhibition game between the Lakers and the Nets should be the very first people to officially address the situation.
When James finally did comment on the issue, he said Morey wasn’t educated on the China-Hong Kong situation. Those comments irked at least one fellow NBA player — Celtics big man Enes Kanter.
Now that a few weeks have passed since the initial tweet, the tension between the NBA and China has eased, though plenty of fans are still happy to debate the topic. It will be interesting to see if the controversy prompts the NBA to crack down on how and when players and employees are allowed to use social media, especially when there is a politically tense situation underway. Given how sensitive China was to a relatively mild tweet, it is likely that at some point, the NBA will do something else that will trigger another controversy. If that happens, it will be interesting to see if the NBA continues to pursue a relationship with the country, or if they decide to focus their attention and resources elsewhere.