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The NBA’s fallout with China, explained

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Everything you need to know about the ongoing situation with the NBA and China.

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Adam Silver points to an audience member at a press conference.
Will the NBA and China ever make good again?

A tweet by Rockets general manager Daryl Morey supporting protestors in Hong Kong is setting off a chain reaction of fallout between the NBA and China. As the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets played two games in Shanghai and Shenzhen in October, China-based media and businesses started to pull their support from the league.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver has already issued two statements clarifying the league’s position on Morey’s tweet. Despite the tweet being almost immediately deleted, Silver stated he “regrets” upsetting people in China but wouldn’t limit free speech for league employees.

The response has not appeased business leaders and the state-run broadcast networks previously set to air the games. What originally started as a backlash focused on the Rockets now threatens to derail the NBA’s strong relationship in China. The Lakers-Nets game went on with no media availability. Now that the players have returned safely to U.S. soil, more athletes are starting to chime in on the international incident caused by Morey’s tweet.

Here’s a running list of the fallout that has come from Morey’s tweet:

China has suspended preseason NBA broadcasts in the country

Chinese state-run broadcast network CCTV has pulled broadcasts of both Nets vs. Lakers games this week. CCTV issued the following statement Tuesday morning:

“We’ve noticed NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s response to the inappropriate remarks by Houston Rockets GM Morey. We are strongly unsatisfied and opposed to Adam Silver’s claim of supporting Morey’s rights of having freedom of speech,” sports channel CCTV5 said Tuesday on its social media page. “We think any remarks that challenge national sovereignty and social stability are outside the category of freedom of speech.”

The network also stated it would “investigate all cooperation and exchanges with the NBA.”

The league currently has a a $1.5 billion streaming deal with Chinese media company Tencent.

Tickets for the Nets-Lakers preseason game have been unavailable online

The Nets and Lakers are set to play in Shanghai at Mercedes-Benz Arena on Thursday. Per the Wall Street Journal, “tickets from the designated online agent for Thursday’s Shanghai game became unavailable.”

Community events are being canceled

Chinese celebrities are boycotting the NBA China games

Chinese actors, musicians, and other celebrities are pulling out of their involvement in the NBA China games according to USA Today, though the publication doesn’t name names.

There is no media availability before, during or after Nets vs. Lakers in Shanghai

All media availability for Adam Silver and the stars and coaches of the Nets and Lakers (including Kyrie Irving and LeBron James) has been cancelled by Chinese officials, according to NBA.com.

This is, needless to say, highly unusual.

The Chinese Basketball Association will no longer cooperate with the Rockets

Brands are halting their relationships with the NBA

When the first Lakers-Nets game tipped off on Tuesday, there were no sponsors to be seen around the games. The floors were even re-finished to remove brand logos that had originally been painted onto the floor.

  • Anta Sports Products Ltd., the Chinese shoe brand that sponsors Golden State Warriors star Klay Thompson, is suspending contract negotiations with the NBA after saying it was as shocked as fans by the league’s statement on Morey’s tweet, per the Wall Street Journal.
  • Sportswear brand Li-Ning and Shanghai Pudong Development Bank announced they are halting their relationships with the Houston Rockets, according to Reuters. A former Rockets reporter tweeted SPDB would “stop all marketing and promotion activities related to the Rockets.”
  • Vivo, a Chinese phone company that sponsored the NBA China games, is suspending all cooperation with the league, expressing “strong dissatisfaction and condemnation” against the NBA’s statement on Morey’s tweet, per the Wall Street Journal.

Tencent is blacklisting the Rockets

Tencent, a streaming service with a billion-dollar deal to bring NBA games to people in China, announced it would “suspend all reports/streaming” of Rockets games. The company is now allowing fans to “switch home teams” for those who bought a single-team pass to watch the Rockets.

Rockets gear is disappearing

The NBA store in Beijing has replaced Rockets gear with apparel from other teams, according to the Wall Street Journal. Online retailers have also reportedly pulled the team’s merchandise.

Two fans in Philadelphia with “Free Hong Kong” signs were kicked out of a Sixers game

The Sixers claim they were thrown out because there were “multiple complaints from guests and verbal confrontations with others in attendance.”

A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers has called on the NBA to leave China

An eclectic group of United States lawmakers including Bronx Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz signed a letter to the NBA ripping the league for not standing behind Morey more forcefully and for having a training academy in the heart of Xinjiang province, where China is allegedly holding a million Uighurs in “re-education camps.”

Fans had “Free Hong Kong” signs confiscated at the Wizards vs. Guangzhou Long Lions preseason game

Fans in D.C. wearing “Free Hong Kong” t-shirts had signs taken from them supporting Hong Kong protestors.

A reporter was shut down from asking James Harden and Russell Westbrook a question about China

A CNN reporter was interrupted as she asked the Rockets stars who the fallout from this week affects the way they’d talk about China and other political issues. Her question was stopped by an NBA spokesperson and she was told the players would only be answering questions about basketball.

The league later commented that the reporter should have been allowed to ask her question:

Adam Silver held a private meeting with teams in China, where LeBron James urged the league to speak up before the players

Shams Charania detailed the tense hours before the Lakers-Nets games in China in a column at The Athletic. According to Charania, Silver held an open floor meeting where players including LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kyle Kuzma spoke up on the issue:

Lakers star LeBron James spoke up in front of everyone in the room and stated he believed that Silver and the NBA needed to explain and articulate the situation first, before the players would have to, multiple sources with direct knowledge of the meeting told The Athletic. James expressed concern that without the league being able to speak to media to address all of the questions and dynamics about China and the NBA, it was unfair for solely players to bear that responsibility.

“Adam deserves a lot of credit because instead of forcing these players in front of cameras in China, he worked with everyone in the room and heard them out,” one person involved in the meeting said.

LeBron James issued a statement on the situation ... and then clarified what he meant with two tweets

Once the Lakers returned to American soil, reporters asked James about the issue before a preseason game against the Warriors. You can watch James’ full comments here:

Minutes after speaking to the media, James tweeted two clarifying statements:

Enes Kanter tweeted a statement on the situation

Kanter is a native of Turkey and has been an outspoken critic of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who has seen major consequences for his free speech.

Chinese state TV did not air the NBA’s opening night games. Tencent only aired Lakers-Clippers

CCTV chose not to air the NBA’s opening night games of the regular season as it typically does, according to ESPN. Tencent opted to air the Clippers vs. Lakers nightcap, but not the Pelicans vs. Raptors opening game.

Shaq: “Daryl Morey was right.”

Shaquille O’Neal supported Morey’s right to free speech during TNT’s pregame show on the opening night of the regular season.