China will not air two preseason NBA games scheduled in China this week on TV and the Internet after NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s latest comments in Tokyo showing unwavering support for free speech and the growing rift between the league and China.
There is concern the two games between the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers will be cancelled, a person in China with knowledge of the situation told USA TODAY Sports. The person requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the sensitive situation.
In a lengthy statement, Silver tried to clarify the NBA’s stance, saying, “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.”
In addition to not airing the games, Chinese actors, musicians and celebrities have withdrawn from NBA-related events, and a Nets’ scheduled visit to a school in China has been cancelled.
The rift between China and the NBA that began over Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s tweet showing support for pro-democracy supporters in Hong Kong continues to grow, leaving the NBA in a sudden and escalating geopolitical crisis just before the start of the 2019-20 season.
Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta tried to distance the team and the league from Morey’s tweet with a strong rebuke saying Morey doesn’t speak for the team or the league, and Rockets star James Harden offered an apology to China during a press conference on Monday.
The NBA tried to apologize to China for Morey’s tweet in a statement on Sunday, but two versions of the statement – one in English and one in Chinese – left more confusion. Multiple U.S. presidential candidates and senators slammed the initial statement Silver and the NBA were criticized for appearing to choose profit over freedom.
“I understand that there are consequences from that exercise of, in essence, his freedom of speech. We will have to live with those consequences,” Silver told reporters in Tokyo.
He is Tokyo for two preseason games between Houston and Toronto, and he is expected to be in China later this week.
Before meeting with reporters, Silver tried to clear up any discrepancies with his lengthy statement Tuesday.
“I recognize our initial statement left people angered, confused or unclear on who we are or what the NBA stands for. Let me be more clear,” Silver’s statement began.
“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.”
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