As a sports fan, I love mostly everything about the NBA. Who wouldn’t? It’s highly entertaining, always filled with drama, and it’s a league that cares and gives back to the community.
That is, until it affects their wallets.
By now, you’ve probably heard about what’s going on in Hong Kong. If not, the Washington Post wrote a very informative article that I highly recommend reading. The basic explanation would be that citizens of Hong Kong are currently protesting against their government in order to keep a bill from passing that would jeopardize basic human rights in the city.
Now what does this have to do with the NBA and social media?
Well, according to an article written in Forbes, the NBA’s relationship with China is worth more than 4 billion dollars. That’s why, when the Houston Rockets General Manager, Daryl Morey tweeted out in support of the Hong Kong protests, it caused quite a stir.
In the coming days, this tweet could have potentially cost the NBA millions by way of Chinese leagues, streaming services, sponsors, and partners cutting ties with the Rockets and the NBA.
The NBA was then faced with a decision to make: support Daryl’s opinion and potentially risk losing a lot of money for the league or backtrack and try to salvage the very profitable relationship with China. They choose the latter.
As soon as money got involved, the NBA stepped in with an official statement that referenced the tweet as “regrettable:”
Statement from NBA re: Daryl Morey’s controversial tweet: pic.twitter.com/6IJv9FJF4T
— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) October 7, 2019
Regrettable? Citizens of Hong Kong didn’t think so, as hundreds of protesters showed overwhelming support for Darly Morey on social media and in the streets of their protest.
Around a hundred protesters are gathering at Wanchai’s Southorn Playground on Tuesday evening in support of the NBA’s Daryl Morey, whose tweet in support of #HongKong caused a furore in Chinese state media.
— Hong Kong Free Press (@HongKongFP) October 15, 2019
The public and media’s negative reaction form their first statement caused NBA commissioner Adam Silver to step in and release a new statement that said, “The NBA will not put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees and team owners say or will not say.”
This is likely what should have been said in the first place, but the risk of losing a lot of money can make people do a lot of dumb things!
Take LeBron James for example. When the face of league for almost the past two decades was asked about Daryl Morey’s tweet he said:
“I just think that when you’re misinformed or you’re not educated about something – and I’m just talking about the tweet itself – you never know the ramifications that can happen. We all see what that did – not only for our league but for all of us in America, for people in China as well.“
This statement did not sit well with the protestors in China. In fact, it resulted in Lebron’s jersey being burned in the streets:
Some NBA fans in Hong Kong are burning LeBron James jerseys, after he commented on the Houston Rockets GM's tweet that supported protesters.
James said people should be careful what they tweet because "a lot of negative" can come with free speech. pic.twitter.com/PXHd2mIpvF
— AJ+ (@ajplus) October 15, 2019
LeBron saw this reaction from the public and backtracked as well:
Let me clear up the confusion. I do not believe there was any consideration for the consequences and ramifications of the tweet. I’m not discussing the substance. Others can talk About that.
— LeBron James (@KingJames) October 15, 2019
You might be thinking to yourself, “LeBron is just an NBA player, he gets paid by the Lakers, why would this affect him?” LeBron is no longer a basketball player, he’s a brand and just like the NBA, he sells merchandise in China. Any disruption in those deals would cause a massive financial hit for the 4-time MVP.
So league executives and the players won’t stand up in support of Hong Kong. How about the fans?
Recently, we have seen support for Hong Kong in stands of NBA games by fans. Take a look at this video of the Clippers Jumbotron during their game.
This is awesome.
During an NBA game last night, a cameraman panned to a child holding up a @LAClippers shirt. The child immediately put that shirt down and held up a “Fight for freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.” shirt. pic.twitter.com/8tpE0ysxTy
— Daily Caller (@DailyCaller) October 23, 2019
A child tricks a cameraman to turn to him while he’s holding a Clippers t-shirt. Once he’s on the Jumbotron, he flips the shirt and shows another shirt that says “Fight For Freedom Stand With Hong Kong.” Notice how flustered the cameraman becomes once he figures out what the t-shirt says. This is clearly something that the NBA does not want broadcasted.
We even saw this at a Sixers game!
— Christie Ileto (@Christie_Ileto) October 9, 2019
Fans were escorted out of the game of chanting “Free Hong Kong.” I’ve heard people chanting way worse things than that at Sixers games, with zero repercussions. Clearly the NBA wants to bury this as much as possible.
Finally, you know things are bad when Shaq is the voice of reason.
SHAQ on China: “They know and understand our values … and one of our best values in America is free speech. We’re allowed to say what we want to say and we’re allowed to speak up on injustices, and that’s just how it goes”
“Daryl Morey was right” pic.twitter.com/CBQWHfszhp
— Ryan Saavedra (@RealSaavedra) October 23, 2019