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Commentary: NBA hypocritical in response to China controversy

Lebron James | Courtesy of Tim Shelby via Wikimedia Commons

Lebron James, a member of the Lakers, gave his take on the NBA’s China controversy and stated he believed the Rockets’ general manager “wasn’t educated” on the situation and added that uninformed freedom of speech could harm people. | Courtesy of Tim Shelby via Wikimedia Commons

The NBA is in danger of falling into a hole of hypocrisy that it might not be able to escape from as the league finds itself in the ultimate battle of “business versus morals.”

The NBA’s world changed dramatically on Oct. 4 when Houston Rockets’ General Manager Daryl Morey posted a tweet supporting the Hong Kong protesters in China, which has led to a massive fallout.

Chinese mainland officials were quick to react to the tweet by the Rockets’ GM. They contacted Houston officials, including the Harris County Houston Sports Authority and Mayor Sylvester Turner, pressuring the team to discipline Morey.

On Oct. 6, the NBA announced it would not punish Morey for the tweet, but the league’s overall response was an utter disappointment. It released a statement that left many upset due to the lack of support for Morey.

In the statement, the league seemingly apologized for Morey’s decision to express a belief and stated that the reaction the tweet caused was “regrettable.”

That statement has made the NBA seem hypocritical, as the league has boasted for years about encouraging and empowering players to take on social issues.

In the summer of 2016, NBA superstars LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony opened up the ESPYs with a call for social justice, for which the NBA was applauded.

While the NBA should be appreciated for supporting the players, those actions never put the league in a position to lose a serious amount of money, as with the situation in China.

Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, who has long voiced his opinion on social issues, has remained silent during this entire situation. When asked whether he believed Morey should be fired for the tweet, Kerr refused to comment.

It is frustrating that one of the league’s most vocal coaches would not vouch for Morey expressing his own personal belief, which Kerr is known for.

This issue, of course, is extremely complicated.

The NBA and many of the players pull a significant amount of revenue from Chinese endorsements. It’s estimated the NBA makes about $500 million in revenue annually from these deals.

James Harden, the Rockets’ star guard who is popular in China, was recently asked about the controversy during the team’s trip to Japan. His response?

“I’m staying out of it.”

What this situation reveals is the NBA is all for social justice until it puts the league in a financial strain, as it has demonstrated by leaving one of its top executives high-and-dry after the controversial tweet.

The NBA is a business. Everyone understands that, and no one expects the association to challenge a regime that has been in power since 1949.

The problem, however, comes with the hypocrisy the league has shown in this fiasco, as no one in the association has openly supported Morey. Instead, the league has attempted to cater to the communist Chinese mainland.

Chinese officials have made it clear they oppose any expression that is against the mainland government. The NBA has made it clear it disapproves of that kind of censorship.

On Thursday, however, the NBA still held a game in Shanghai between the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets. That game was banned from being televised in China due to the ongoing fallout from Morey’s tweet.

James, a member of the Lakers, gave his take on the controversy and stated he believed the Rockets’ general manager “wasn’t educated” on the situation and added that uninformed freedom of speech could harm people.

What James said about uninformed freedom of speech is true: it can be dangerous.

However, it does not apply to Morey.

The bottom line is simple, the league and its players have a lot of financial stake in the Chinese market, and as a business, protecting their interests makes sense, but to continue to disguise it as anything other than that is hypocritical.

The actions, or lack thereof, from the NBA this past week have contradicted years of work the league has done to build up its reputation, and now it has a tough decision to make.

The league can double down on its progressive identity, giving its absolute support to everyone who wishes to support a cause and accept any reaction China imposes.

Or it can continue to be passive, distance itself from the incident and hope the ban on games ends soon.

Only one choice will get the NBA out of the hole it has dug itself into.

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