Professional basketball has shown its true colors, and they aren’t red, white and blue.
Just red and green.
The recent flap over the National Basketball Association cowering to the masters of Communist China has rekindled the animosity fans and viewers felt toward pro football during the Colin Kaepernick uproar a couple of years ago.
Dissimilar to the San Francisco 49ers’ part-time quarterback Kaepernick taking a knee on the sidelines during the presentation of the national anthem to protest alleged social and racial injustice, the current self-inflicted basketball bruise is less progressively oriented. Instead, it’s all about the money.
At least, that’s what it’s beginning to look like.
With fading interest in professional sports — from NASCAR to the NFL, NBA, MLB — revenues from domestic sports venues have been declining. Partially due to increasing costs, empty stadium seats, complicated broadcast contracts, taxpayer resistance to financing construction of expensive new facilities and now social and political statements from team owners and players have also adversely impacted their fan base.
As a result, sports leagues and team owners are increasingly venturing outside the United States to promote their product and generate business. They would be wise to leave the politics at home.
People buy a ticket or watch television to see a game — not to witness a rant or stunt from some overly paid prima donna whining the world isn’t treating everyone fairly. Folks hear enough of that noise from the daily news.
Generally, a ball game is where folks go to temporarily get away from all the cacophony. Or, it used to be.
However, the NBA’s Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey found out the hard way that voicing an opinion on a social/political issue can sometimes be extremely detrimental. Particularly if the statement is directed toward a country that is not a strong advocate of human rights but, in all probability, is the primary country of most of the products produced and used by the NBA.
Instead of sticking to basketball issues, Morey made the mistake of going to social media with his thoughts on the current Hong Kong pro-democracy versus Communist China upheaval. For nearly four months, clashes between protesters — ironically many waving U.S. flags — and Chinese police have continued to escalate.
Morey, likely ignorant of the Chinese Communist Party’s way of settling social and political differences, tweeted his support for the protesters: “Fight for freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.”
Soon after, pressure from Chinese fans, the NBA and even Rockets team owner Tilman Fertitta, compelled Morey to remove the tweet. Free speech and opinion are not a basic principle of communism, as Morey suddenly discovered.
Nor, apparently, is it in the boardroom of the NBA saying Morey’s comments were “regrettable.”
Swiftly reacting to the tweet, CCTV — China’s state- regulated broadcast organization — said it would no longer provide television coverage of Houston games, even though former Houston player and Chinese star Yao Ming is still a big celebrity. Applying additional pressure, Shanghai Pudong Development Bank suspended marketing contracts with the team.
Additional Chinese-made sporting accessories — shoes, equipment, clothing and, of course, goofy bobble-head dolls, are a multibillion-dollar business, with a huge percentage of the products being sold in the United States. Many former and current NBA players receive substantial royalties from basketball product endorsements.
The bottom line in all this appears to be the economic impact Morey’s comment could have on the basketball business and China’s relationship with it.
Chinese basketball is the second-largest market behind the United States. With a population of more than a billion citizens, it’s conceivable it will eventually surpass the United States in game attendance and accessory sales.
Management at the NBA is well aware of this, as are coaches and team owners. Steve Kerr, former University of Arizona player and current coach of the Golden State Warriors, recently jumped into the fracas comparing China’s dictatorship to owning an AR-15 rifle in America.
Commenting U.S. citizens “have no right” to quarrel with China’s abysmal record on human rights because China does not involve itself in U.S. social or political concerns, Kerr said “But people in China didn’t ask me about, you know, people owing AR-15s and mowing each other down in a mall.” Insinuating, somehow, a lone nut with a semi-automatic rifle is comparable to a tyrannical government murdering, enslaving and imprisoning millions of unfortunate souls over the years.
Unfortunately, in the corporate world of global business, such technicalities are often ignored in favor of universal cooperation to enhance quarterly profits.
Adding insult to injury, Joe Tsai, vice chairman of China’s Alibaba Group and owner of the Brooklyn Nets, succinctly remarked of the situation: “I don’t know Daryl personally. I am sure he’s a fine NBA general manager, and I will take at face value his subsequent apology that he was not as well informed as he should have been. But the hurt that this incident has caused will take a long time to repair.”
Perhaps a subtle hint Mr. Morey should begin giving serious thought to life after the NBA.