In a time in the United States where tension between the left and right is higher than it’s been since the day Donald Trump was elected as president, the National Basketball Association found a way to bring everyone together in mutual disgust.
As reports of increased violence in Hong Kong circulated this weekend, including that a taxi driver had plowed into a crowd of protesters gathered to march against an abrupt and questionably legal ban on face coverings, many Americans felt moved by the obvious attack on freedom. This included Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, who offered support to those under violent attack by the Chinese order in the streets of Hong Kong. “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong,” he said on Twitter.
The multibillion-dollar market for the NBA in China immediately began to deteriorate after he published the tweet. The notion of supporting Hong Kongers as they watch the last shred of their democracy stripped away as they’re assaulted in the streets with blue dye, tear gas, motor vehicles, and live rounds of ammunition was simply a bridge too far for the communist regime of China. Marketing deals, broadcasting agreements, and other forms of support for the NBA were all immediately in jeopardy.
2) “We are strongly dissatisfied and we oppose Silver’s claim to support Morey’s right of free expression. We believe that any speech that challenges national sovereignty and social stability is not within the scope of freedom of speech,” CCTV said https://t.co/XAISJPCkES
— Ryan Heath (@PoliticoRyan) October 8, 2019
The NBA Caves To China’s Tyranny
This was the moment when the NBA, renowned for being the “wokest professional sports league” that encouraged LeBron James and others to fight for social justice, could have stood up for Morey, for Hong Kong, and for freedom, money be damned. But they didn’t do that. They utterly caved to the oppressive, communist government of China and begged for financial mercy in a pathetic statement.
“We recognize that the views expressed by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey have deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China, which is regrettable,” the Sunday statement said in part.
The language of the statement then attempted to thwart the inevitable criticism for sheer hypocrisy for propping up a government known to murder its own people and hold a boot to the neck of all 1.4 billion citizens. “While Daryl has made it clear that his tweet does not represent the Rockets or the NBA,” the statement continues, “the values of the league support individuals’ educating themselves and sharing their views on matters important to them.”
The final sentence of the statement seals the status of the NBA as an organization far more interested in preserving the riches bestowed by China than preserving liberty or even integrity. “We have great respect for the history and culture of China and hope that sports and the NBA can be used as a unifying force to bridge cultural divides and bring people together.” The NBA did not answer The Federalist’s request for comment on the disparity in the league’s values.
“There is no doubt, the economic impact is already clear,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said from Japan on Monday. “There have already been fairly dramatic consequences from that tweet.”
Joe Tsai Makes a Troubling Statement
Owner of the Brooklyn Nets Joseph Tsai dismissed the notion that NBA players and other employees should be able to speak freely on any issue, despite the league’s reputation for progressive policies. In a Facebook post on Sunday, Tsai said the NBA should first consider the fans. “When hundreds of millions of fans are furious over an issue, the league, and anyone associated with the NBA, will have to pay attention,” he said. “As a Governor of one of the 30 NBA teams, and a Chinese having spent a good part of my professional life in China, I need to speak up.”
Tsai then said that the whole of China was united in the idea that protests in Hong Kong were dangerous uprisings and not a stand for liberty. “The problem is,” he said, “there are certain topics that are third-rail issues in certain countries, societies and communities. Supporting a separatist movement in a Chinese territory is one of those third-rail issues, not only for the Chinese government, but also for all citizens in China. The one thing that is terribly misunderstood, and often ignored, by the western press and those critical of China is that 1.4 billion Chinese citizens stand united when it comes to the territorial integrity of China and the country’s sovereignty over her homeland. This issue is non-negotiable.”
Washington Post columnist Isaac Stone Fish was quick to point out the troubling nature of Tsai’s statement, noting that China does not allow its citizens to speak freely, so an assumption that it rejects causes for liberty as a monolith didn’t hold water.
Tsai makes it seem that any statement in support of Hong Kong — remember, all Morley said, in a quickly deleted tweet was "Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong" — is so extremely offensive to China as to be beyond the pale.
— Isaac Stone Fish (@isaacstonefish) October 7, 2019
Democrats and Republicans Are Coming Together
GOP Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley outright called on Silver and the NBA to cancel all Chinese exhibition games and suspend business with China until protests in Hong Kong come to a peaceful resolution. “Remember that some things are more important than money,” Hawley wrote in a letter to Silver that was sent to all 30 team owners. “Remember your responsibility. You may not think of your League as an American undertaking, but whatever you think, what you say and do represents America to the world. And for an American organization to help the most brutal of regimes silence dissent in pursuit of profit is appalling.”
Hawley’s sentiments were echoed by voices up and down the political aisle and in entertainment over the past few days. “South Park” creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker, who recently saw their show completely banned in China, including all episodes, message boards, and social media posts, issued a statement of their own on Monday.
“Like the NBA, we welcome the Chinese censors into our homes and into our hearts,” they said in a statement. “We too love money more than freedom and democracy. [President] Xi doesn’t just look like Winnie the Pooh at all. Tune into our 300th episode this Wednesday at 10! Long live the Great Communist Party of China! May this autumn’s sorghum harvest be bountiful! We good now China?”
In a time when it looks like political parties couldn’t be more divided in the United States, the NBA’s deeply defective relationship with China provided some common ground. “This is bigger than just the @NBA. It’s about #China’s growing ability to restrict freedom of expression here in the U.S.” Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said.
TV networks,airlines,hotel chains,retailers & Hollywood already self censor.
Now private citizens risk losing their jobs if they offend China. https://t.co/DQOFdBkb1e
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) October 7, 2019
Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer echoed Rubio’s sentiment. “No one should implement a gag rule on Americans speaking out for freedom. I stand with the people of Hong Kong in their pursuit of democratic rights,” he tweeted on Sunday.
No one should implement a gag rule on Americans speaking out for freedom.
I stand with the people of Hong Kong in their pursuit of democratic rights.
I stand with Americans who want to voice their support for the people of Hong Kong.
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) October 7, 2019
Co-Founder of liberal magazine Vox Matt Yglesias, who is often sharply critical of conservatives, joined Schumer and Rubio in their condemnation of the NBA’s relationship with China. “If corporate America is going to import Chinese censorship practices as the price of securing access to the Chinese market, then we’re going to have to rethink some things.”
If corporate America is going to import Chinese censorship practices as the price of securing access to the Chinese market, then we’re going to have to rethink some things.
— Matthew Yglesias (@mattyglesias) October 7, 2019
Even fellow Texans and 2018 rivals for the U.S. Senate Ted Cruz and Beto O’Rourke found cause to agree in the name of freedom.
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) October 7, 2019
The only thing the NBA should be apologizing for is their blatant prioritization of profits over human rights. What an embarrassment. https://t.co/bbiwCBTwc1
— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) October 7, 2019