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The NBA, China and the hypocrisy of it all

The NBA has always been at the forefront of every social issue that has come along; They made Donald Sterling, former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, sell his team and banned him for life after racist comments were made and leaked to the public.

The NBA also pulled out of Charlotte for the NBA All-Star game in 2017 because of the controversial transgender bathroom laws passed in the state of North Carolina. Finally, the NBA most recently removed the title of “owner” and replaced it with “governor”, as they felt the word was too racially insensitive.

Under commissioner Adam Silver, the NBA has been the most progressive league of the Big Four and the ones who have stuck their neck out most when it came to social issues. Now all of a sudden, with this Hong Kong/China situation, the NBA has backtracked completely and has shot themselves in the foot in every way and shape possible.

For those of you not aware of the Hong Kong/China situation, China is essentially trying to take over Hong Kong without officially taking over Hong Kong. It’s imperialism in the 21st century. It all started (at least the 2019 protests) with the Fugitive Offenders amendment bill proposed by the government of Hong Kong.

In a nutshell, it’s a 2019 Quartering Act, where local authorities could extradite and detain criminals where they don’t actually have jurisdiction. It sounds fine in concept, but it’s a bureaucratic way of having the citizens of Hong Kong wrapped around China’s finger.

The protests have escalated each month and despite the outpouring of support by most of the world, there seems to be no end in sight to this conflict. In fact it’s only escalated, as many protesters have “gone missing”. In addition to those violations of human rights, there’s an alleged concentration camp in the village of Xinjiang that’s holding captive between 1 million and 3 million Chinese Muslims.

China has never been the gold standard for human rights (i.e. sweat shops, pollution control, facial recognition software) but this overtaking of Hong Kong is a direct threat to the freedom of all people around the world. Unfortunately for the NBA, the only thing that they see in China right now is dollar signs.

The NBA and China, up to this point, have had a budding relationship. It started with David Stern, former commissioner who oversaw many a controversy (we’ll get to that) but had the foresight to build the game of basketball in a country with a fourth of the world’s population.

The tradition continued with Silver and the NBA had many games slated during this preseason in all different parts of China. About a week and a half ago, General Manager of the Houston Rockets Daryl Morey tweeted “#FreeHongKong”. The tweet has since been deleted but Morey’s tweet caused a storm of anger and dissent from Chinese fans to the NBA.

The backpedaling began when Morey sent out a half-hearted, half apology tweet and Adam Silver made a statement on behalf of the NBA that was as soft as a feather pillow considering their progressive stance on most social issues.

The storm ensued and Head Coach of the Golden State Warriors Steve Kerr, who is usually the first to throw his political agendas out to the public, had this to say about the situation. He even followed up with this.

It’s funny that Kerr has the moxie to speak out on every other social issue in America and seems to be well-versed, yet can’t comment on the situation going on in China because that’s where his bread is buttered. The hypocrisy is alarming and Kerr should be ashamed of himself for not standing up against a country that has a long history of human rights violations.

Kerr isn’t the only prominent NBA figure to cower in the fear of a Chinese backlash. Lebron James, he who was able to make millions upon millions of dollars as an athlete and in a free, capitalist market was able to start multiple business ventures, feels that Daryl Morey was “misinformed” when he spoke up on the Hong Kong situation.

Lebron’s lack of awareness with his comments is alarming considering how big of a figure he is around the world, and buried someone who is pro-human rights. In what world, other than the NBA of course, is that acceptable in any way?

James later half-heartedly made another statement after a huge backlash that including his jerseys being burned in Hong Kong. However, it was not before Enes Kanter, who is marked as a fugitive in his home country of Turkey and whose family has suffered unimaginable hardships, had this to say in regards to James’ comments.

The NBA has always been a controversial league. Whether it be the infamous 1985 Draft Lottery or the Tim Donaghy scandal, the league just can’t find a way to get out of the news, regardless of how progressive it may seem to be.

The hypocrisy in this situation is overwhelming. The Big Four have all been guilty of this in one form or another (think the BALCO scandal in MLB) but nothing has stunk to high heavens quite like this. China has the NBA in their back pocket and it’s a sad sight to see what was once a progressive organization cower to the might of a dictatorship.

This also begs the question; Is the NBA actually a progressive organization or were all of the other things they’ve done over the past 10 years P.R. stunts? Do they believe in equality for all? Do they actually stand up for the oppressed? Or do they go any way the wind blows, as long as they’re on the side of majority.

Either way, it’s a terrible look for the league and an even worse look for Silver, Kerr and James in particular. Obviously the topic is a controversial one and there never really is a right answer if you’re an athlete, but these guys put themselves in a position of social influence and now it’s coming back to bite them.

Where does the NBA go from here? Well, they’re still trying to rebuild their relationship with China, because they’re hurting financially. What they should do is boycott any Chinese events until the protests have been resolved (which will probably never happen). What they probably will do is try to mend their relationship with China and pull the wool over the NBA fan’s eyes.

It’s a sad situation and if the NBA did the right thing, we wouldn’t be in this spot. Unfortunately, greed and money trump all, regardless of what kinds of human rights violations are being committed. Until the NBA gets this situation right and supports the people of Hong Kong, their league will be tarnished.

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Chris Passarelli
Football Editor - Hockey Editor - New York Islanders Lead Writer - New York Lizards Lead Writer - UConn Football Lead Writer
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