FILE - In this Sept. 13, 2019, file photo, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, second from left, attends the semifinal match between Argentina and France in the FIBA Basketball World Cup at the Cadillac Arena in Beijing. The multibillion-dollar relationship between China and the NBA is strained right now in ways unlike any other since the league first began planting roots there three decades ago. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, File)

NBA's ties with China, worth billions, now under strain


It wasn't even a month ago that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver sat overlooking center court at an arena in Beijing, watching the gold-medal game at the World Cup with other basketball dignitaries.

That night was all smiles.

Silver's return to China later this week will be much different.

The relationship between China and the NBA — a multibillion-dollar marriage that involves media rights, streaming, merchandise sales and much more — is strained right now in ways unlike any other since the league first began planting roots there in earnest three decades ago. A since-deleted tweet from Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey that showed support for Hong Kong anti-government protesters prompted an immediate backlash, complicated further by the timing of the NBA having two preseason games in China this week.

"We apologize," Rockets star James Harden said in Japan on Monday. "We love China. We love playing there. I know for both of us individually we go there once or twice a year. They show us the most support and love. So we appreciate them as a fan base and we love everything they're about and we appreciate the support that they give us individually and as an organization."

That support is being sternly tested, be it from tweets that were deleted, uproars over an NBA statement that had some of its meaning lost in translation when posted in Mandarin and even the cancellation announced Monday of two G League games to be played in China between the minor-league affiliates of the Rockets and the Dallas Mavericks.

At least one Chinese sporting goods company said it was no longer cooperating with the Rockets and a sports news website In China said it was no longer covering the team.

"There is no doubt, the economic impact is already clear," Silver told Kyodo News in an interview Monday. "There have already been fairly dramatic consequences from that tweet, and I have read some of the media suggesting that we are not supporting Daryl Morey, but in fact we have."

The NBA is enormously popular in China: Oft-cited figures from basketball executives in both the U.S. and China say that 300 million people play the game recreationally there and that about 500 million Chinese watched at least one NBA game last season.

And the Rockets are among the biggest team brands there, no doubt because Chinese star Yao Ming — a Basketball Hall of Famer — spent his NBA career with Houston.

Yao is now president of the Chinese Basketball Association, which announced over the weekend it is suspending its ties with the Rockets in retaliation for Morey's tweet. While Yao has not shared his personal feelings on the topic, it's clear that the relationship between Yao and his only NBA team is currently, at best, rocky.

Silver will address the matter at a news conference Tuesday in Japan, where the Rockets are playing this week. He then is scheduled to speak in Shanghai on Thursday, in advance of two preseason games in China between the Los Angeles Lakers, led by global sports icon LeBron James, and the Brooklyn Nets, now owned by Joe Tsai, the co-founder of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba.

"What is the problem with people freely expressing their opinion? This freedom is an inherent American value and the NBA has been very progressive in allowing players and other constituents a platform to speak out on issues," Tsai wrote in a lengthy open letter posted late Sunday. "The problem is, there are certain topics that are third-rail issues in certain countries, societies and communities."

And in China, discussion of the Hong Kong protests is one of those issues, Tsai said.

The NBA's relationship with China dates back about 30 years to the time when former Commissioner David Stern struck a deal with Chinese television to show games on a tape-delayed basis. Stern even talked about having an NBA-sponsored or branded league in China. The first league office there had three employees and flimsy furniture.

Now, about 200 NBA employees work in China in offices in Beijing and Shanghai. Games are streamed live and Chinese media cover all the league's biggest events such as All-Star weekend and the NBA Finals. The league has played preseason games there for years, has three NBA academies in the country — designed to find the next star prospect — and big-name players go there every offseason to promote their brand.

Retired Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade has a lifetime contract with Chinese apparel company Li-Ning. Golden State guard Klay Thompson has a 10-year deal with another Chinese shoe company, Anta. Five-time champion Kobe Bryant has been visiting China annually for about two decades and is a massive star there, even now that his playing career is done.

The league has navigated its way around one thorny issue related to the U.S. and China in recent months: a trade war between the nations that includes back-and-forth tariffs. The Hong Kong tweet, though, is likely to present a much bigger test for the NBA.

"What I can tell you for sure is it's not going to erase the decades of work that, you know, myself and everyone else in the NBA has put in in building a tremendous base for basketball in China," Golden State Warriors COO Rick Welts said Monday in an appearance on CNBC. "And I think this will pass. And I do think our future in China is probably pretty remarkable."

© Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

Login to comment

The National ‘social justice’ Basketball League is “woke” in condemning an American state that wanted separate bathrooms for males and females. They aren’t so woke when it comes to human rights in China and basic political rights for the people of Hong Kong. I’m guessing the Chinese communist party doesn’t endorse unisex bathrooms either but hey - what is social justice when it could cost billions from the NBA’s bottom line.

10 ( +10 / -0 )

Perhaps all the NBA players should take a knee to show support for Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macau, and Tibet?

6 ( +7 / -1 )

Perhaps all the NBA players should take a knee to show support for Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macau, and Tibet?

Bad bussiness

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Bad business

Apparently, China just removed 'South Park' from the Chinese internet because it mocked Hollywood's submission to China and by doing so proved that everything they said on the TV show's episode was correct!

'South Park' has reportedly been banned in China after its most recent episode criticized censorship in the country

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Joseph Tsai, the Taiwanese-Canadian educated in America billionaire co-founder of Alibaba wrote a lengthy post on his Facebook excoriating Morey and westerners in general over the offending tweet. In other words he defended the indefensible..

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Bad bussiness

Sure but think of the millions such courageous players could earn from Nike. Speak truth to power!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

That South Park episode was awesome. The Chinese are going overboard trying to pretend they are benefactors, and in it for all our good.

South Park shot that out of the water in true South Park fashion. They know how to dig into a subject like no other.

Winnie the Xi disapproves.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

This shouldn't be a surprise. The NBA is a big globalism-pushing corporation, and there's nothing big globalism-pushing corporations love more than advancing the interests of authoritarian Communist regimes.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

This shouldn't be a surprise. The NBA is a big globalism-pushing corporation, and there's nothing big globalism-pushing corporations love more than advancing the interests of authoritarian Communist regimes.

Really? The people in these companies are citizens of the countries they live in, is there a point of money or power whereby one suddenly decides they don't care about freedom and suddenly want to advance the interest of Communist regimes? What exactly is the flipping point?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

So China has banned pre-season NBA games. Too bad for the NBA, this is going to be a hit in the pocketbook.

But this has exposed the degree to which China and Winnie the Xi are trying to manipulate the world into following their censorship, bowing to their oppression of freedom. Too bad for the NBA to be the ones caught up in it, but if anyone can afford to ride it out, it's the NBA.

This has simply exposed the TRUE cost of doing business in China. Sure, there is a huge payoff due to their huge market, but you also have to pay into the bank of oppression.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Login to leave a comment

Facebook users

Use your Facebook account to login or register with JapanToday. By doing so, you will also receive an email inviting you to receive our news alerts.

Facebook Connect

Login with your JapanToday account

User registration

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites