Steve Kerr's silence shows NBA-China relationship is league's third rail


Steve Kerr's silence shows NBA-China relationship is league's third rail

SAN FRANCISCO – The NBA has done so much to craft a progressive image, and been so careful about maintaining it, is caught in an international crossfire so sizzling and that even Steve Kerr, so often the voice of reason, dares not get near it.

“Actually, I don’t,” was Kerr’s response when asked Monday night for his thoughts on the civil unrest in Hong Kong, where protesters are clashing with the Chinese government.

“It’s a really bizarre international story and a lot of us don’t know what to make of it. It’s something I’m reading about, just like everybody is. But I’m not going to comment further than that.”

What followed was five seconds of silence, finally pierced by the Warriors coach.

“You’re not used to me saying that, are you? No comment. You’re all stunned.”

Stunned, no. Surprised? Somewhat. But only a little bit, and there are two reasons.

First of all, this is not Kerr’s comfort zone. His social views are fairly well known by anyone who follows sports and politics. He urges Americans to vote. He believes President Trump is an aspiring dictator. The bullseye in Kerr’s circle of social concern is his staunch advocacy for national gun control, a stance formed from personal tragedy.

“What I’ve found is that it’s easy to speak on issues that I’m passionate about and that I feel like I’m well-versed on,” Kerr said. “And I’ve found that it makes the most sense to stick to topics that fall in that category. So, I try to keep my comments to those things. So, it’s not difficult. It’s more ... that I’m trying to learn.”

Secondly, and this is the real bag of vipers, is the financial partnership between the NBA and China. Or, should we say, the powers that be in China.

Everything eventually is about money. That is at the heart of the hottest NBA controversy since April 2014, when Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s life of certified bigotry leaked into our eardrums, angering players and embarrassing owners and every human being in the league office, including new commissioner Adam Silver.

The Sterling issue was a five on the 1-to-10 crisis scale because he was not a movement but a man. He could, for the good of all, be dismissed without a peep of protest beyond himself.

This latest controversy, which landed upon the NBA late Friday, after Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted in support of the protesters in Hong Kong, is far more complicated because there can be no clean victory. This is a nine.

Morey’s tweet – “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.” – exposed his humanitarian principles. Once China got wind of it, the blowback was fast and fierce, forcing Morey to delete the tweet and his boss, Rockets chairman Tilman Fertitta, to parachute in to control the damage, scolding his GM as part of the process.

Claiming the Rockets are apolitical, Fertitta was not particularly successful because the damage runs too deep, as it always does when revenue is at stake. China is the NBA’s most lucrative partnership, and it was jeopardized with a single tweet. Chinese sponsors fled from the Rockets, as did the Chinese Basketball Association, of which Rockets Hall of Famer Yao Ming is president. Tencent, the Chinese digital media that covers most NBA games in the United States, is suspending coverage of the Rockets despite their popularity in China.

Silver was forced to respond because he’s the commissioner. The NBA issued a statement Sunday that apologized for Morey’s tweet, supported his right of expression and praised the “history and culture of China.”

We’re now on Day 5 of the outrage with no indication of a truce.

The Lakers and Nets are scheduled this week to play two preseason games in China. Silver will be in attendance. Questions will be asked. Of Silver. Of LeBron James. Of Kyrie Irving, I hope, simply because his response could be fascinating.

But no answer by anyone will please everyone.

The NBA’s reputation as a liberal paragon always has been a rather illusory, a myth perpetuated by social positions that are progressive when compared with other major American sports leagues. If there is a league interested in being on the right side of history, it is the NBA,

Still, it is a capitalist enterprise. When revenue streams and business partnerships are at stake, it’s wise to be prudent, to be mindful.

[RELATED: How Steph stunned D-Lo with first shot of preseason]

Kerr said he’d already emailed his brother-in-law, a “Chinese history professor,” seeking more enlightenment. Though he eventually may disagree with government policies, I know he sees cultural value in the NBA-China relationship. Even if he concludes the Chinese government is evil, he still may see the benefit in experiencing it.

For now, though, the wise move is to recognize nothing is worse than dismissing one’s ignorance to say or tweet something regrettable.

How Lakers are giving Warriors repeated reminders of size they lack

How Lakers are giving Warriors repeated reminders of size they lack

The best of Dwight Howard disappeared in 2012, and what remains of the three-time Defensive Player of the Year is a serviceable big man in the rotation of a Los Angeles Lakers team with championship aspirations.

That was enough Monday night to remind the Warriors during their 104-98 loss of an issue they must address if they expect to compete at the highest levels of the Western Conference.

They’ve got to get bigger and more bullish, particularly in the paint.

Which, at this point, makes it imperative that they find a roster spot for 6-foot-10, 240-pound Marquese Chriss.

With Howard bullying his way to 13 rebounds in 22 minutes and 7-foot teammate JaVale McGee snatching five boards in 17 minutes, Los Angeles rode a 48-38 advantage in paint points to send the Warriors out of Staples Center in defeat.

“It’s just really, really frustrating,” coach Steve Kerr told reporters in LA. “If we don’t get that cleaned up, we’re in huge trouble this year. We know that.”

Though the Warriors snagged only two fewer rebounds (48-46), it was evident for the second time in two games they had problems with the bumping and banging of the LA big men.

Through three preseason games, a pattern is developing. The Warriors have lost the rebounding battle in all three games, including by 11 in the preseason opener against LA and by one against the Minnesota Timberwolves, a notoriously poor rebounding team.

Some of this can be blamed on the absences of Willie Cauley-Stein (mid-foot sprain, out until November) and Kevon Looney (hamstring strain, out indefinitely). The season opener is nine days away, and they were projected to share the bulk of the team’s minutes at center.

For now, the load is being shared by 6-9, 270-pound Omari Spellman and Chriss, with 6-10, 245-pound Kavion Pippen playing scant minutes the last two games. Spellman, who started the preseason opener, has 17 rebounds in 51 minutes. Chriss, who started the last two games, has 28 rebounds in 65 minutes.

Rookie forward Eric Paschall, whose listed height of 6-foot-9 is an exaggeration, closed at center Monday night. He has only nine rebounds in 70 preseason minutes.

“You’ve got to defend without fouling, and you’ve got to rebound,” Kerr said. “If we do those things then you’re got a chance. Without it, we’re in big trouble.”

In addition to the rebounding deficit, the Warriors also are committing the kind of pushing-and-grabbing frustration fouls typical of teams operating at a size disadvantage. Paschall and Chriss each were whistled for five fouls while both played 26 minutes.

The result was the Lakers having a 39-23 advantage in free-throw attempts.

“Between the rebounding and the fouling, those were the areas we talked about the most,” Kerr said. “Especially over the last four or five days. Once we got a couple games under our belt, where you could really see it, that’s all we’ve talked about.

“That’s why this was a really disappointing game, especially in the first half.”

The Warriors are well aware that their lack of size presents their biggest physical challenge. But playing the Lakers four times this preseason is perfect for providing a constant reminder.

The lack of size is a real problem, and the length of the Lakers shines a harsh light on it. Anthony Davis, McGee and Howard totaled 32 rebounds in 53 minutes in the Oct. 5 opener, when Chriss had been on the roster for four days.

He now looks like the most skilled offensive big man on the roster.

[RELATED: Why John Oliver name-dropped Chriss in NBA-China monologue]

Chris has made smart passes, averaging 4.0 assists this preseason. He has shot 11-of-19 from the field, 8-of-8 from the line. He provides the vertical spacing expected of Cauley-Stein and some of the savvy play we’ve seen from Looney.

Most of all, Chriss is big, strong and springy, and he engages in the paint. He is easily the team’s most impressive big man and certainly is outplaying his non-guaranteed contract.

The Warriors know the problem, and the sight of Howard exposing it means it’s visible to all. It’s not going to go away unless they address it.

Why John Oliver name-dropped Warriors' Marquese Chriss in NBA-China monologue


Why John Oliver name-dropped Warriors' Marquese Chriss in NBA-China monologue

Warriors big man Marquese Chriss has been the talk of training camp, but he apparently caught the eye of comedian John Oliver -- or his writers room -- long before that. 

On Sunday's episode of "Last Week Tonight" on HBO, Oliver recapped China's backlash against the NBA following Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey's since-deleted tweet in support of pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong. Oliver called China's uproar over Morey's tweet "absurd," before facetiously criticizing Morey for letting Chriss go in a trade last season. 

"You wanna be angry at him, how about the fact he traded away power forward Marquese Chriss as part of a three-team deal with the Kings and Cavaliers back in February?" Oliver joked. "Chriss is [6-foot-10] with a 7-foot wingspan, plays way above the rim and can mix it up in the post. Yes, granted, he's had his issues on the Suns -- I'm not denying that. But he's the exact type of athletic big man that could have balanced out [Russell Westbrook and James Harden] especially when he's coming off the bench for P.J. Tucker.

"What I'm saying, Daryl, is your tweet about Hong Kong was totally fine -- nothing to apologize for there -- but when it comes to Marquese Chriss, you f----d up, Daryl!"

Oliver then quipped he wasn't "even a Rockets fan," but one of "competent midseason roster moves."

The Warriors signed Chriss to a non-guaranteed contract in September. The No. 8 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft has impressed his Golden State teammates and coaches, providing the Warriors size up front and rebounding -- two things they've lacked in the preseason with much of their frontcourt banged up. 

During the segment, Oliver criticized the NBA for its handling of the aftermath of Morey's tweet, which Morey walked back and the league apologized for. Following the league's apology, NBA commissioner Adam Silver said that Morey "enjoys that right [to freedom of speech] as one of our employees." Chinese state broadcaster CCTV did not show a pair of the league's preseason games played in China last week. 

[RELATED: What we learned in Dubs' second preseason loss to Lakers]

Oliver noted that "the NBA has put itself in a tight spot," but contended that the league would be unable to navigate out of it. In wrapping up the segment, he invoked Chriss once more. 

"And the reality is here that the NBA can either have a commitment to free speech, or they can have guaranteed access to the Chinese market, but they cannot have both," Oliver argued. "This will not be the last time that they'll be forced to choose, and my fear is they'll trade one for the other -- which would be the worst trade since Daryl Morey shipped out Marquese Chriss."