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Adam Silver: NBA exporting Americana to China through basketball

NBA Moves To Salvage Its Brand In China

BEIJING, CHINA - OCTOBER 09: (Editor’s Note: Photo taken with mobile phone camera.) A Chinese flag is seen placed on basketballs in the NBA flagship retail store on October 9, 2019 in Beijing, China. The NBA is trying to salvage its brand in China amid criticism of its handling of a controversial tweet that infuriated the government and has jeopardized the leagues Chinese expansion. The crisis, triggered by a Houston Rockets executives tweet that praised protests in Hong Kong, prompted the Chinese Basketball Association to suspend its partnership with the league. The backlash continued with state-owned television CCTV scrapping its plans to broadcast pre-season games in Shanghai and Shenzhen, and the cancellation of other promotional fan events. The league issued an apology, though NBA Commissioner Adam Silver angered Chinese officials further when he defended the right of players and team executives to free speech. China represents a lucrative market for the NBA, which stands to lose millions of dollars in revenue and threatens to alienate Chinese fans. Many have taken to Chinas social media platforms to express their outrage and disappointment that the NBA would question the countrys sovereignty over Hong Kong which has been mired in anti-government protests since June.(Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

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The NBA has repeatedly come under fire for operating in China, where human-rights abuses raise ethical concerns.

But NBA commissioner Adam Silver is defending his league.

Silver at his press conference before Game 1 of the NBA Finals:

My position is, said this many times, that I think engagement is positive, particularly through sports. I think to keep people safe and prosperous that using sports as a platform to keep people around the world talking is critically important.
I think it’s a positive thing right now that we are exporting this Americana, NBA basketball and the messages that come with it to China.
We stand behind our players and team executives, their right to free expression – whether about issues in the United States or issues any place in the world.
If the consequences are that we’re taken off the air or we lose money, we accept that.

This is a nice sentiment. Hopefully, it’s true. It’d be wonderful if the NBA is helping to spread values such as freedom. It’s a common argument in favor of international trade.

It’s also an argument that happens to align with the league’s money-making interests.

More alarmingly, the league has not always upheld the core beliefs Silver espouses.

In fairness to Silver, the NBA has missed out on projected hundreds of millions of dollars in China after Daryl Morey tweeted support for Hong Kong protesters (who were trying to maintain and expand their freedom). China took NBA games off state-run television and did so again after Enes Freedom’s more-recent comments (NBA games were still available via the most popular streaming service in China, Tencent, which is how most younger fans watch games anyway).

As Silver noted, practically every large American company does business in China. The NBA generally shouldn’t be singled out for this wider issue.

Except when Silver presents the league’s pursuits in China as overtly virtuous. Then, it’s time to bring back up those words.