The NBA could be in massive trouble in the financial department with a multibillion-dollar business relationship with China facing pressure. The saga began when Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey kicked off an international debate with a tweet.
Chinese broadcaster CCTV revealed that they suspended planned broadcasts of NBA preseason games. They cited Morey’s now-deleted tweet, which expressed support for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. In the wake of the tweet, the organisation attempted a salvage job, but a number of U.S. politicians were unwilling to throw their support. They felt that the league had sided with financial interests over human rights.
The backlash threatens one of the NBA’s most lucrative corporate partnerships. Namely, a five-year deal with Tencent to stream NBA games in China, worth $1.5 billion. Another consequence was several sponsors cutting ties with the Rockets or the NBA. They included Li-Ning, Vivo, Shanghai Pudong Development Bank and the Chinese Basketball Association.
“I have always appreciated the significant support our Chinese fans and sponsors have provided and I would hope that those who are upset will know that offending or misunderstanding them was not my intention,” Morey wrote in a statement on Twitter. “My tweets are my own and in no way represent the Rockets or the NBA.”
It comes a a massive blow for the NBA, as it spent nearly two decades trying to get a foothold in China. The league’s business in the country is worth more than $4 billion as of 2018, according to Forbes.
The consequences also bleed into the NBA 2K League, where there were plans to place a franchise in Shanghai. It would have been the first time the NBA has placed a team outside North America.
“While Daryl has made it clear that his tweet does not represent the Rockets or the NBA, the values of the league support individuals’ educating themselves and sharing their views on matters important to them. We have great respect for the history and culture of China and hope that sports and the NBA can be used as a unifying force to bridge cultural divides and bring people together,” NBA Chief Communications Offer Mike Bass said.
Several politicians, including Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., tore into the organisation for their response. They accused the organisation of failingd to support Morey’s right to free speech and the pursuit of democratic values in Hong Kong.
Silver attempted to justify the league’s position in a statement, acknowledging that the league’s initial response “left people angered, confused or unclear on who we are or what the NBA stands for.”
“It is inevitable that people around the world — including America and China — will have different viewpoints over different issues. It is not the role of the NBA to adjudicate those differences,” Silver said. “However, the NBA will not put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees and team owners say or will not say on these issues. We simply could not operate that way.”
The debate threatened U.S.-China tensions amid a lengthy trade war that sparked retaliatory tariffs between the two nations. Top diplomats are set to meet in Washington, D.C. this week to discuss a potential resolution.