OPINION: NBA should’ve taken a stance on anti-gov’t protests in Hong Kong

by | Oct 15, 2019 | Opinion, Sports

Jeremy Yudin, Editor-in-chief

The NBA made it its mission to encourage free speech from its players and employees. But a recent political stance has put one of their biggest revenue streams in jeopardy. 

Daryl Morey, the Houston Rockets General Manager, tweeted last Friday in support of the anti-government protests in Hong Kong. 

Supporting expression — which the league has consistently done — would this time put their multibillion dollar partnership with China at risk.  

About 800 million people in China watched NBA programming on TV, digital media or smartphones last year. The NBA’s business in China has grown at double-digit percentages every year since 2008. 

So in an effort to save its largest international partnership, the NBA tried to take both sides with a statement on Sunday which was negatively received by the western media. 

Protesters gather in support of NBA’s Houston Rockets’ team general manager Daryl Morey, who sent a tweet backing the pro-democracy movement, in Hong Kong on Oct. 15. (REUTERS/Umit Bektas)

“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. While Daryl has made it clear that his tweet does not represent the Rockets or NBA, the values of the league support individuals’ educating themselves and sharing their views on matters important to them.” 

A league that has been as open as the NBA has, a confusing statement like this has really put them in a spiral. The response to the Morey comments come off as an apology and, at the same time, support for the general manager’s right of expression. The NBA can’t choose both. The league had to make a choice but it couldn’t. 

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver redirected the league’s stance two days later, saying the league will not interfere with Morey’s comments. He understood there will be consequences and said the league will have to live with them. 

So what was the point of the original statement? 

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver speaks during a news conference before the NBA preseason basketball game between Houston Rockets and Toronto Raptors at Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan October 8, 2019, (Kyodo/via REUTERS)

I get that a multibillion dollar partnership is on the line, but the NBA looked pretty indecisive there. To me, the NBA seemed reluctant to accept the consequences of supporting Morey, and it looked like they put the decision in commissioner Silver’s hands. He may have answered the call, but the NBA still took the hit. 

Silver did the right thing to step up and defend a GM’s right to  freedom of speech. He accepted the consequences. But saying this a couple days after the NBA’s highly criticized statement is more of a cleanup act than anything. 

It took a while, but at least the NBA finally understood it can’t have their cake and eat it too.