Joe Clark is a sophomore sports management major. He is a staff writer for the Newswire from Franklin, Mass.
A lot of people turn to sports as an escape from the real world. For better or worse, I would much rather worry about how the Celtics are going to replace Al Horford and Aron Baynes (because Enes Kanter certainly isn’t the answer) than about the climate or trade wars. However, in the world today, sports and politics interact with each other more than ever.
Recently, the NBA found itself smack dab in the middle of political controversy in China regarding the pro-democracy Hong Kong protests. Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted out an image that said, “fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong.” That tweet led to multiple Chinese businesses pulling out of partnerships with the NBA and China even refusing to air NBA preseason games that were played in the country.
So, why is this an issue? Well, China makes up 10% of the league’s current revenue, according to David Carter, the executive director of the USC Sports Business Institute. As a result, the NBA has done much more to protect its financial interests than acknowledge the clear human rights issues happening in China.
On Oct. 8, in what was 100% a damage control statement (after the NBA’s first statement about the issue was heavily criticized), NBA commissioner Adam Silver said, “The NBA will not put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees and team owners say or will not say.” The way the NBA has operated since then, though, has been the opposite of what Silver said in the statement.
During the Rockets’ media availability session on Oct. 10, CNN’s Christina Macfarlane asked players James Harden and Russell Westbrook if they would refrain from speaking out on social justice issues. She was immediately told that her question wouldn’t be answered by the people running the media session.
The NBA loves billing itself as a socially conscious league. That’s a lie. The NBA is only socially progressive when it has nothing to lose and a good image to gain, not when it actually comes to serious issues like what’s happening right now in China.
Besides Morey, who was quickly forced to clarify his original tweet, and Silver, who’s only trying to save face, the only other person in the NBA who’s really spoken about the issue is Brooklyn Nets owner Joe Tsai, who referred to the pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong as a “separatist movement” in a letter posted to Facebook. Tsai is one of the most powerful people in the sport as an owner, and the fact that he’s using his platform to support the Communist Party in China is not a good look at all for the league. The fact that the NBA didn’t care to respond to Tsai’s letter while doing all it could to appeal to Chinese interests by not really supporting what Morey had to say tells you all you need to know about the NBA.
The NBA and the people associated with it only care about being progressive and preaching about how “woke” and socially conscious they are when there’s nothing to lose. If it affects the bottom line, like it has the potential to do with China, they show their true colors. It’s just a business, and what’s morally right clearly doesn’t matter. So, remember down the line when the NBA or one of their sponsors decides to push out an ad telling you how much they care about whatever issue they’re pretending to focus on at the time that, apparently, they don’t believe democracy is worth fighting for.