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Blacked out since 2019, NBA games back on state-run television in China

Philadelphia 76ers v Orlando Magic

ORLANDO, FL - MARCH 13: A generic basketball photo of the Official Wilson basketball during the game between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Orlando Magic on March 13, 2022 at Amway Center in Orlando, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images)

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Except for one game in the 2020 Finals, NBA games have not been shown on state-run China Central Television since Daryl Morey’s Tweets in support of Hong Kong protesters back in 2019.

That has changed recently and NBA games are back on the air, signaling improved relations between the league and the Chinese government, reports Sopan Deb at the New York Times.

The first game this year on state TV, according to Global Times, was Tuesday night’s matchup between the Los Angeles Clippers and the Utah Jazz. According to Global Times, the broadcast was the start of a full return of the N.B.A. to China’s airwaves...

“N.B.A. games have aired in China continuously for nearly 35 years, including this season on a number of other services,” Mike Bass, an N.B.A. spokesman, said in a statement on Thursday. “We believe broadcasting games to our fans in China and more than 200 other countries and territories is consistent with our mission to inspire and connect people everywhere through the game of basketball.”

NBA games have still been streamed on Tencent, a powerful and popular streaming platform used in China. Even more so than in the United States (where basketball’s fan demographic skews younger than other major sports), the NBA is popular with younger generations in China, who are more likely to stream games on phones and other devices than watch them on traditional broadcast media anyway.

While Morey’s Tweet put a spotlight on it, the NBA has been like many American corporations who have tried to grow their business globally — part of what is behind the rapid escalation of NBA franchise values is the potential for international growth for the league, China is a big part of that — but are caught in a culture war domestically. There are Americans who believe more in globalization as a way to grow American influence, and some are pushing an “America First” protectionist ideology.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has continually compared the NBA to other American companies doing business in China, saying it is more U.S. government relations and policies that dictate what is happening than its own actions. He also has long said he believes in “soft power” and that the exportation of NBA games to China also exposes that part of the world to American culture in an unfiltered way people may not get otherwise.

“It’s hard to divorce what’s happening with the NBA from larger geopolitical issues between the U.S. and China,” Silver said last July at a press conference. “I do think it remains important, that particularly when tensions are high between governments, that we foster these sports, educational, cultural relationships...
“It certainly doesn’t mean that we are blessing everything that happens in China by any means. We are at root an American company, and so we follow U.S. government policy. But it’s my expectation that we will continue to distribute our games in China... and that we can play a productive role in helping the people of the United States and the people of China have a better understanding of each other, and see that we’re all human beings and that there is commonality between us.”