The National Basketball Association (NBA) has had deep business dealings with China in recent years. It’s estimated that dealings with China make up about 10% of the NBA’s revenue, and this number continues to grow. However, these lucrative ties have been threatened due to a single tweet from Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey. The now deleted tweet includes an image that reads: “Fight For Freedom. Stand With Hong Kong.” As a result, several high profile Chinese businesses and organizations have taken a stance against the Rockets and the NBA and suspended their ties with the league.
The context regarding Morey’s tweet can be traced to recent protests in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is currently experiencing a political push to prevent an alteration to its current government structure. Its protestors are pushing for full democracy at this point; however, the protests began when Hong Kong’s government proposed a bill to allow extradition to mainland China. Critics of the proposal claim that the bill would restrict Hong Kong’s judicial independence and endanger some of its citizens by subjecting it to mainland China’s legislation.
Controversy emerged with the NBA’s response, which stated, “While Daryl has made it clear that his tweet does not represent the Rockets or the NBA, the values of the league support individuals educating themselves and sharing their views on matters important to them. 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.”
Morey responded as well, stating, “My tweets are my own and in no way represent the Rockets or the NBA.”
Joe Tsai, the executive vice chairman of a Chinese corporation and owner of the Brooklyn Nets franchise, posted a tweet contradicting Morey’s initial tweet, criticizing Hong Kong’s protests by labeling them as a “separatist movement.”
Members of the Republican and Demoratic parties in the U.S. have criticized the NBA’s response to Morey’s tweet, showing their mutual discontent of the NBA’s decision to counter Morey’s initial claim to support Hong Kong’s current political movement. Multiple Democratic candidates including Beto O’Rourke, Julián Castro, and Andrew Yang have taken stances against China, with O’Rourke referring to the NBA’s response as “an embarrassment.”
One Republican senator, Rick Scott, tweeted, “It’s clear that the @NBA is more interested in money than human rights.”
Despite the near universal stance against China regarding this issue in the United States, it is clear that this issue presents a complex situation for the NBA. The organization has an extremely large following and influence across the globe, and it should support the ideals of freedom of expression present in America to retain its reputation. However, by doing this, it risks losing a significant portion of its profits. The NBA will most likely have to strike a balance in order to appease Americans at home and its business partners in China.