SAN FRANCISCO -- Thanks to Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey and United States President Donald Trump, we finally can kill and bury what should have died at least 83 years ago.
The fallacy of sports and politics sleeping in different beds.
They’ve always been linked, always will be locked in an embrace of varying comfort levels. Pretending otherwise is brazen ignorance of facts that pass before our eyes every day.
Continuance of the war, initiated last Friday with Morey’s tweet expressing support for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, came spilling from Trump’s mouth Wednesday, with his words landing upon the head of Warriors coach Steve Kerr and then, by circumstance, into the lap of Golden State superstar Stephen Curry.
Asked Monday night if he had any thoughts on Morey’s since-deleted tweet, which prompted Rockets chairman Tilman Fertitta to apologize to China and marginalize his GM, Kerr said he had nothing to offer. He said it was a complex issue with which he’d like to be more familiar.
His non-response sent tails wagging throughout Trumpian society, which branded Kerr -- usually outspoken on certain domestic political topics -- a coward for failing to address this controversial international issue.
Sports and politics, together again in disharmony.
When the topic came before Trump on Wednesday, he followed his usual based-on-TV-viewing script, launching into a dismissive, middle-school belittlement of Kerr.
“I watched this guy Steve Kerr and he was like a little boy,” Trump told reporters. “He was so scared to be even answering the question. He couldn’t answer the question. He was shaking. 'Ohh, ohh, ohh. I don’t know.'
“He didn’t know how to answer the question. And yet he’ll talk about the United States very badly.”
News of Trump’s comments came barely one minute after Kerr had concluded his daily media availability -- but minutes before Curry, often at odds with Trump, had his.
“I’ve got to welcome Steve to the club,” Curry said, referring to the list of sports figures, entertainers, independent women, Gold Star families, American prisoners of war, fellow politicians and others who have been publicly ridiculed by Trump.
Meanwhile, China’s reaction to Morey’s tweet has been harsh and thorough. Tencent, the Chinese media partner of the NBA, has put the Rockets into a black hole, suspending that partnership. No Rockets games on TV. One social-media post Monday showed someone in Shanghai painting over Rockets artwork, including the logo, inside a gym.
Houston Rockets artwork on an indoor basketball court in Shanghai being painted over. We live in sad times. pic.twitter.com/RR6owruj3N— Cameron Wilson 韦侃仑 (@CameronWEF) October 8, 2019
It’s as if, at least for now, the Rockets have been erased from China.
Indeed, one Rockets fan in China, daring to side with his favorite team, reportedly threatened to burn the national flag and invited authorities to arrest him. They did. He could face as much as three years in prison.
Sports and politics. Can’t keep them apart.
For nearly 20 years, since Houston drafted Yao Ming in 2002, the Rockets have been conceivably China’s most popular American sports team. Longtime Rocket and Basketball Hall of Famer Tracy McGrady was, for a time, the most popular athlete in China.
Warriors star Klay Thompson, who has an apparel contract with Chinese corporation Anta, is a huge celebrity, attracting massive crowds every time he visits. That, too, is in peril, as Anta announced Wednesday that it will “immediately stop contract renewal negotiations with the NBA.”
Which points up the thorniest issue, one without an easy resolution. The business aspect.
The NBA and China are business partners, each benefitting off the interests of the other. China is the league’s biggest market outside the U. S.
That’s why NBA commissioner Adam Silver has made multiple attempts to satisfy the Chinese government while simultaneously affirming American freedom of speech. It’s a dance so delicate and, perhaps irresolvable, that it could go on the weeks or months. Maybe even years.
It was in 1936 that Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany sought to affirm its physical and intellectual superiority by triumphing in the Olympic Games in Berlin. This international sports event would, once and for all, prove that Hitler and his “master race” of Aryans were bred to rule the world.
It didn’t work out so well Hitler, of course, but those Games crackled with political overtones, as have many others. Take Mexico City in 1968, when American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos took a stand to fight for equal rights, and Munich in 1972, when Black September, a Palestinian terrorist group, took Israeli athletes hostage and killed 11.
Here we are, 83 years removed for the ’36 Games, and the NBA and China are at odds. A basketball league in a country of 325 million vs. a nation of more than 1.4 billion.
It’s a form of war. All because of a single tweet.