Mutual respect key to solve NBA standoff in China

By Lu Wenao Source:Global Times Published: 2020/7/2 19:33:40 Last Updated: 2020/7/2 15:33:40

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver  Photo: IC

As the NBA plans to resume its season on July 30, many Chinese sports fans are anticipating the return of live broadcast of the NBA games after the long hiatus caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it remains unlikely that the games will return to Chinese platforms if the issues between the NBA and the Chinese public are not solved. 

The NBA's problems with China began in October 2019, after Daryl Morey, general manager of the NBA franchise Houston Rockets, tweeted support for the often-violent and secessionist protests in Hong Kong. Morey later deleted the tweet and issued an apology, but that was not enough to right his wrong and the NBA games were later pulled from broadcasters in China. 

The row has dealt a big blow to the NBA, as Commissioner Adam Silver said in a recent interview with TIME magazine that the losses over the row have already been "substantial" and the financial consequences "may continue to be fairly dramatic." 

Silver also noted that he hopes to develop "mutual respect" between China and the NBA to solve the dispute, as he indicated that freedom of speech, including Morey's tweet, must be respected. 

When it comes to freedom of speech, the NBA has a good record on raising awareness toward social issues at home. Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James and San Antonio Spurs legendary coach Gregg Popovich often make headlines off the court for their activeness on social issues. 

But freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences. For instance, former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling's racist comments have cost him a team for life. 

Further complicating the issue, the NBA also faces heavy pressure domestically, with some US politicians accusing the NBA of prioritizing profit over principle since China represents the NBA's largest market outside the US.

The issue has become so politicized that even establishing a basketball youth training center in Urumqi, Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region has become like a crime in the eyes of US Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee. 

She bluntly questioned in a letter to Silver what steps the NBA will take to shut the training center in Xinjiang, describing the region as "one of the world's worst humanitarian zones."

All is not lost however. In June, the NBA named Michael Ma Xiaofei as the CEO of NBA China - the first mainland native for the job - to replace outgoing chief Derek Chang. 

NBA China, which conducts the league's business in the country, is worth more than $4 billion, according to Forbes in 2018.

Ma, son of Ma Guoli, former chief of state broadcaster CCTV Sports, is believed to have more power than Chang to solve the standoff.

There has already been some progress made, such as Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry's simple social media interaction with one-armed basketball enthusiast Zhang Jiacheng in early June, which received wide applause. 

But for Morey and his Rockets, where China's basketball trailblazer and now CBA President Yao Ming spent eight seasons, all respect is gone. If Morey genuinely wants to earn back the respect of the Chinese public, a more sincere apology is needed to solve the row.

Mutual respect should always be a priority in solving issues, including the NBA's.

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