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, the league is caught in an international crossfire so sizzling 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.

What a Steph Curry contract extension with Warriors would look like

What a Steph Curry contract extension with Warriors would look like

Can you believe it already has been three years since Steph Curry signed his five-year contract extension with the Warriors worth just over $201 million?

It seems like yesterday he still was on the four-year, $44 million deal that was considered the most team-friendly in all of sports.

Time flies.

But anyways, since the two-time NBA MVP has just two years remaining on his current pact ($43 million next season and $45.8 million in 2021-22), he is eligible for an extension. So what are the theoretical particulars?

ESPN's Bobby Marks laid out the details Wednesday morning:

-- 2022-23: $48 million
-- 2023-24: $51.9 million
-- 2024-25: $55.7 million

First of all, these numbers could be subject to change due to the financial uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

[RUNNIN' PLAYS PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Secondly, there has been no indication whatsoever that Steph's representatives and Golden State management are discussing an extension, or that it's something either side is exploring.

In fact, it's probably very safe to assume that it isn't on the radar at all. Marks simply acknowledged a deal -- by rule -- could be struck this offseason.

[RELATED: Trainer says Steph is 'as bouncy and energetic' as ever]

Right now, the Warriors are focused on the 2020 NBA Draft, free agency and exploring safety measures in the attempt to have fans at Chase Center next season. And for Steph, he is concentrating on dealing with "FOMO" from not playing inside the Orlando bubble.

In the end, it would be beyond stunning if the three-time NBA champion isn't playing for the Warriors when the 2022-23 campaign begins. So don't waste a second of your time stressing about Steph's future with the Dubs.

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Steph Curry, Damian Lillard deserve better than ridiculous debates

Steph Curry, Damian Lillard deserve better than ridiculous debates

The evidence gets clearer by the day. With the coronavirus pandemic and all its inglorious but sensible restrictions, too many people with too much idle time are flocking to social media and diving keyboard-first into irrational discussions.

Such as the one that raged Tuesday night and into Wednesday and was unrelated to Kamala Harris as a vice presidential candidate:

Is Damian Lillard better than Stephen Curry?

The answer is no, but that doesn’t stop “debate.” Nor should it.

One of the charming aspects of sport is that it is, like a crowded barber shop, a virtual playground for silly arguments. Sports are where conflict prompts research before meandering to laughter and expressions of mutual respect. It’s OK to agree to disagree. On those rare occasions when it escalates to violence, the blame lies not with the disagreement but with whomever loses perspective.

With Lillard lighting up all comers in the NBA bubble, pulling the Portland Trail Blazers into favorable playoff position -- and doing so in spectacular fashion -- it’s natural that hyperbole would take flight into a loony dimension. Recency bias is real, and it’s the fastest route to folly.

[RUNNIN' PLAYS PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Dame is the best point guard in the bubble, so he must be the best point guard in the NBA. The first claim defies debate, the second invites it.

Which leads the conversation directly to Curry, the point guard against whom all others should be measured. He has the least to prove and is the most decorated player in the league not named LeBron James.

Curry is the only active point guard with three championship rings. He’s the only point guard with two MVP trophies, and the only player in history to nab the award by a unanimous vote. Moreover, he is the only point guard that can make a legitimate claim to altering the offensive philosophies and defensive strategies of basketball at all levels, regardless of gender.

All the things Dame wants most, Steph already has.

But Dame is coming. And hard.

His performance in Florida has been a portrait of stone-cold determination and preposterous production. Lillard is averaging 37.0 points (48.5 percent shooting, including 41.4 percent from deep, 88.8 percent from the line) and 9.3 assists per game. In their last two games, with increasingly high stakes, Dame put up 51 and 61 points. Of the 69 points that Portland totaled in the fourth quarters of those two games, both excruciatingly close, he scored 40.

In scoring 61 points to put away the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday, Lillard joined Wilt Chamberlain as the only players with three games of 60 or more points in a season.

Hats off. Caps, too. Lillard lives up to his Dame D.O.L.L.A. (Different on Levels the Lord Allowed) nickname. The praise coming his way, is richly deserved. He shouldn’t plead with anyone to “Put some respect on my f---ing name,” as he did Tuesday night.

Curry might not be caught uttering that phrase, but it surely lives in his heart. That’s where these two players are most alike. Each was a three-star recruit out of high school and landed at a mid-major -- Steph to Davidson, Dame to Weber State. Each entered the NBA to the yawns of skeptics. They feel disrespected because they’ve been disrespected.

But comparing Dame to Steph is cheap debate bait.

[RELATED: Trainer says Steph is 'as bouncy and energetic' as ever]

Curry, he has the chips and the dip. His teams crush Lillard’s at every postseason turn. Steph’s presence in the Bay Area is responsible for the Warriors hysteria that has surfaced over the last seven years. Chase Center does not get built without the team’s runaway success, and that success does not happen without Curry.

At the root of this silly debate is, sadly, perception.

Despite his record and his innate toughness, Curry always will be perceived by some as a soft kid from the suburbs, son of a millionaire NBA player. His baby face, relatively fair skin and his exhibitions of joy are magnets for jealousy and bound to lure detractors.

Lillard gets props for surviving his upbringing. He’s a Brookfield Village kid, raised in a five-block stretch between railroad tracks and I-880 in East Oakland. He's a credible rapper. His court demeanor is of such intense focus it’s almost trance-like. He is serious business.

Curry and Lillard deserve better than to be fantasy-pitted against each other, with slander flying both ways, at a time when one is radioactive and the other inactive.

Debate can be fun, but rarely is it vital. How about we cool the keyboards a bit and allow each to be magnificent in his own right? Both are, after all, bound for the same Hall of Fame.