Why Are The Typically Loud NBA Voices So Quiet On China And Hong Kong?

Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey sparked an international incident with one tweet that has managed to place the NBA at the forefront of the question of how American businesses should approach partnerships with China.

The tweet, sent on Friday and quickly deleted, featured an image offering support for protesters in Hong Kong who opposed a since-pulled piece of legislation that would allow prisoners to be extradited to mainland China for trials. The protests continue for various reasons, including a push for democratic elections, as explained by the Hong Kong Free Press.

Since June, large-scale peaceful protests have morphed into sometimes violent displays of dissent over Beijing’s encroachment, democracy, alleged police brutality, surveillance and other community grievances. …

Demonstrators have been demanding a complete withdrawal of the [extradition] bill, a fully independent probe into police behaviour, amnesty for those arrested, universal suffrage and a halt to the characterisation of protests as “riots.”

However, many protesters and democrats have said they will not accept a partial concession from Lam, repeating their slogan: “The five core demands, we will accept nothing less.”

The aftermath of Morey’s tweet has seen the Chinese government, the CBA (headed by ex-Rocket Yao Ming), broadcast partners, and Chinese sponsors all severing ties with the Rockets and NBA preseason games getting pulled from China Central Television, even if they do not involve Houston. Adam Silver has tried to thread the needle with statements on the matter, offering understanding for how the tweet offended those in China, but also offering support for members of the NBA to have the freedom to speak out on the matter. China didn’t agree with that assessment and continues to cancel events, although Thursday’s scheduled preseason game between the Lakers and Nets occurred.

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Players from both of those teams have apparently expressed frustrations with Adam Silver for the situation they’re being put in during their stint abroad. Among the chief issues is that they’re going to be asked questions about the issue that they aren’t comfortable speaking on, particularly while in China.

That’s an understandable grievance, but players and coaches from around the league are choosing not to speak on the issue domestically as well, which has become the latest topic of conversation in the story. Steve Kerr, Doc Rivers, and others have been asked about the situation and their thoughts and have declined to speak on it, citing a lack of full understanding of the topic at hand. That is an understandable stance to take on a significant issue with this magnitude, but given the outspoken nature of Kerr, Gregg Popovich, LeBron James, and many others about social and political issues facing the United States, some have called them hypocrites. Notably, president Donald Trump, who is a frequent target of criticism, challenged Kerr and, to a lesser extent, Popovich.

James is in China currently, and whether he’d speak out on it or not, that is certainly not the place to do so given how the Chinese government handles dissenters. It should not, however, come as a significant surprise that there haven’t been any outspoken voices on the issue for two chief reasons.