[guest post by Dana]
I figured that if I waited another 24 hours before doing a follow-up to my post on the story, President Trump would have thrown his two cents worth into the mix too. And I was right.
While the fallout over Houston Rocket’s GM’s now-deleted tweet voicing support for Hong Kong continues in China with the cancellation of NBA Cares events, it looks like no one is going to come out of this covered in glory. I’m looking directly at you, NBA.
First, with teammate Russell Westbrook at his side, Houston Rockets start James Harden apologized to China rather than throwing his support behind Hong Kong’s freedom fighters:
We apologize. You know, we love China. We love playing there. For both of us individually, we go there once or twice a year. They show us the most important love.
We appreciate them as a fan base. We love everything there about them, and we appreciate the support that they give us individually and as [an] organization.
Note: Both Harden and Westbrook travel to China one a year during the NBA offseason for business – endorsement purposes and to promote their brands.
Also, NBA commissioner Adam Silver weighed in on the matter:
Silver went so far as to say that he and the league are “apologetic” over the outcome and reaction that followed Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s tweet showing support for protesters in Hong Kong, but he noted that “we are not apologizing for Daryl exercising his freedom of expression.”
“Daryl Morey, as general manager of the Houston Rockets, enjoys that right as one of our employees,” Silver said. “What I also tried to suggest is that I understand there are consequences from his freedom of speech and we will have to live with those consequences.”
He added that he “regrets” how so many Chinese people and NBA fans were upset by the now-deleted tweet.
Silver said it would be appropriate for people involved with the league “to be sensitive” to different cultures when tweeting or communicating. He spoke in Tokyo before a preseason game between the NBA champion Toronto Raptors and Rockets.
Chinese state broadcaster CCTV was unhappy with Silver:
“We’re strongly dissatisfied and oppose Adam Silver’s claim to support Morey’s right to freedom of expression,” the statement read. “We believe that any remarks that challenge national sovereignty and social stability are not within the scope of freedom of speech.”
Silver was then compelled to release a more clarifying statement. You can read it in full here. However, in part:
Over the last three decades, the NBA has developed a great affinity for the people of China. We have seen how basketball can be an important form of people-to-people exchange that deepens ties between the United States and China.
At the same time, we recognize that our two countries have different political systems and beliefs. And like many global brands, we bring our business to places with different political systems around the world.
But for those who question our motivation, this is about far more than growing our business.
Values of equality, respect and freedom of expression have long defined the NBA — and will continue to do so. As an American-based basketball league operating globally, among our greatest contributions are these values of the game.
In fact, one of the enduring strengths of the NBA is our diversity — of views, backgrounds, ethnicities, genders and religions. Twenty-five percent of NBA players were born outside of the United States and our colleagues work in league offices around the world, including in Beijing, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Taipei.
With that diversity comes the belief that whatever our differences, we respect and value each other; and, what we have in common, including a belief in the power of sports to make a difference, remains our bedrock principle.
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.
He concludes with:
[W]e believe sports can be a unifying force that focuses on what we have in common as human beings rather than our differences.
I know I already railed about this in the previous post about the NBA and China, but it bears repeating: The brutal dictatorship of China has imprisoned untold hundreds of thousands of China’s ethnic minority Muslim Uyghurs in order to “re-educate” them, and is perpetrating an horrendous abuse of organ harvesting against any number of Uyghur prisoners. Reportedly, at least half a million children have been forcefully separated from their parents, and placed in pre-school camps with prison-style surveillance systems and 10.000 volt electric fences. Any dissent from the Chinese people is immediately punished, any violations of speech in public is met with swift and putative consequences, and citizens disappear, are tortured, and even put to death by the heavy-handed tyrants in charge for any number of infractions. They have an appalling record of human rights violations.
Further, to make matters worse, the NBA is willingly turning a blind eye to this as they not only do business within China’s borders, but they also run a training camp in the same region where the Muslim Uyghurs are being imprisoned:
In the northwestern Chinese region of Xinjiang, Chinese authorities are holding roughly a million Muslims in what government propaganda creepily calls “free hospital treatment for the masses with sick thinking”—in other words, concentration camps. Because of the difficulties of visiting the camps, and because Beijing downplays their existence, firsthand information is sparse. However, satellite photos, innovative research on government procurement bids, and excellent reporting by foreign journalists prove their existence. Some inmates are tortured. Others are forced to sit for hours singing songs praising the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
[D]oing business right in the midst of a campaign that some human rights groups have described as genocide is another thing entirely—and most U.S. companies have unsurprisingly given Xinjiang a wide berth. Yet one of the exceptions is striking: the National Basketball Association. In Oct. 2016, the NBA set up one of its three Chinese training centers in, of all places, Ürümqi, the capital of Xinjiang and site of massive race riots in 2009 that left hundreds dead. The center, which houses roughly 240 student-athletes ages 14 to 18, according to its website, has kept a very low profile. That’s unsurprising—because the NBA presence in Xinjiang is shameful.
Over the past few years, Xinjiang has become ground zero for a repressive revolution into a total control state. Think less George Orwell and more Michel Foucault, the philosopher of power who described a system of total control as a “cruel, ingenious cage.”
And here is the cruel hypocrisy of Adam Silver:
Operating in such a place seems antithetical to the public stance of a league that has recently gone out of its way to tout its progressive, social-justice bona fides. After the Trump travel ban targeting seven Muslim-majority nations, prominent NBA figures took the side of the critics. League commissioner Adam Silver took the unusual step of criticizing the ban, saying “it goes against the fundamental values and the fundamental ingredients of what makes for a great NBA.”
But the bottom line is always money, and it speaks more loudly than anything else. Especially for the NBA:
China, with its market of 1.4 billion potential fans, offers great hope for basketball’s future, and Beijing presumably approves of the league’s willingness to work in Xinjiang—both because it helps bring development to a relatively poor region and because it helps legitimize the repression against Uighurs. The league and its stars are phenomenally popular throughout the country, including Xinjiang. Zhou Qi, the only Chinese player in the NBA last season, formerly played for the region’s team, the Xinjiang Flying Tigers. A number of prominent NBA players including Patty Mills, Kenyon Martin, and Jordan Crawford have also spent time on that team.
But the NBA should no longer engage with Xinjiang. Yes, it will offend some Chinese fans, and Chinese sports regulators might make it more difficult to bring NBA games to a Chinese audience. But the alternative is to continue to help China whitewash a network of concentration camps.
San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who loathes Trump and is an outspoken social justice advocate, came to Silver’s side in an interview:
“He’s been a heck of a leader in that respect and very courageous,” Popovich told reporters at the Spurs-Miami Heat preseason game Tuesday. “Compared to what we’ve had to live through the last three years, there’s a big difference gap there leadership-wise and courage-wise.”
Gosh, what we’ve had to live through ?? Can you imagine what the Muslim Uyghurs have to live through, each and every day??
Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr was asked to weigh in on the matter. Let’s give him first prize for either being the most uninformed, clueless goober on the planet or the biggest lying suck-up in the room. Disgraceful:
“A lot of us don’t know what to make of it, it’s something I’m reading about… but I’m not going to comment,” he said. “What I’ve found is that it’s easy to speak on issues that I’m passionate about and that I feel like I’m well-versed on and I’ve found that it makes the most sense to stick to topics that fall in that category.”
And finally, President Trump, who just recently congratulated China on the 70th anniversary of communist rule and complimented President Xi for “acting responsibly” during the Hong Kong protests, also weighed in on the matter:
…telling reporters outside the White House that “the NBA knows what they are doing,” when asked with he thought about the situation.
Trump then attacked Golden State Warriors’ coach Steve Kerr, referencing a recent news conference when Kerr called the situation “a really bizarre international story” that a lot of us “don’t know what to make of.”
“I watched this guy, Steve Kerr, he was so scared. He was like a little boy, he didn’t know how to answer the question and he was shaking,” Trump said.
He also took aim at Gregg Popovich, coach of the San Antonio Spurs, accusing Popovich and Kerr of “pandering to China.”
I just can’t even.
(Cross-posted at The Jury Talks Back.)