The National Basketball Association debased itself in public as it heaped praise on the authoritarian regime of China after a manager simply tweeted support for Hong Kong protesters. China has canceled plans for a NBA exhibition game and is threatening a lucrative expansion deal into China. Basketball player James Harden profusely apologized to China for a manager simply expressing a view in favor of human rights. The league and top players have shown how money is an easy substitute for principle. Morey was forced to delete his innocent tweet and apologize. Harden is shown proclaiming “We apologize. You know, we love China. We love playing there. For both of us individually, we go there once or twice a year. They show us the most important love.” As the NBA heaps fawning praise on the Chinese regime, Amnesty International is calling for world action over its crackdown on protesters seeking simple forms of democracy and free speech. They however give no money to the NBA or its stars.
The NBA immediately fell over itself to beg forgiveness for a single manager expressing support on a political issues. That night the NBA released a statement expressly regret that Morey’s views have “deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China.” By the way, the statement was translated in China as “Extremely disappointed in Morey’s inappropriate statement. No doubt he’s severely hurt the feelings of CN fans.” The NBA did not object to the translation.
The Chinese cut off broadcasting games after NBA Commissioner Adam Silver apologized but had the temerity of express support for free speech, a right that the Chinese have long denied to its own citizens. The Chinese television officials expressed outrage at the mention of free speech: “We are strongly dissatisfied and we oppose Silver’s claim to support Morey’s right of free expression. We believe that any speech that challenges national sovereignty and social stability is not within the scope of freedom of speech.” Well, few things are “within the scope of freedom of speech” in China beyond praising the Communist regime.
Brooklyn Nets and New York Liberty owner Joseph Tsai wrote their own self-debasing letter explaining why it is not cool to support protesters who are being beaten and shot by China in an effort to secure democratic rights: “The problem is, there are certain topics that are third-rail issues in certain countries, societies and communities. Supporting a separatist movement in a Chinese territory is one of those third-rail issues, not only for the Chinese government, but also for citizens in China.” Nothing like team owners to explain to Americans why authoritarians are so sensitive about criticism of repression. What they did not fully explain to the unwashed fans is how free speech is a “problem” when it takes money out of their pocket. Owners could care less about millions of people denied basic political and individual rights. They appear arbitrarily located in a country that values free speech. Their statements show that they value one thing only and it is measured at the end of every month in an accounting report.
The NBA is not alone of course. GAP apologized for a shirt of China that did not show Taiwan as a part of China. Marriott quickly apologized for listing Taiwan as a nation while Daimler debased itself over the mistake of quoting the Dalai Lama. As China’s power rises, these companies have shown how money alone will trump any notion of free speech.
Fortunately, I do not follow basketball but I do follow the Hong Kong protesters, who constantly cite our own country as a model in their courageous struggle for basic human and political rights . . . precisely the type of people that NBA owners and players want nothing to do with.