If you believe a man shouldn’t be allowed to use a women’s restroom, the NBA will boycott your city. If you believe the people in Hong Kong should be free, the NBA wants you to keep your mouth shut.
Last Friday, Daryl Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets, tweeted an image that read, “Fight for freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.”
This shouldn’t have been a controversial statement. China is a communist dictatorship that denies basic human rights to its citizens. Hong Kong is a semi-autonomous state that guarantees its citizens more civil rights than China permits. When the British left in 1997, China agreed to govern Hong Kong under the principle of “one country, two systems.”
To the surprise of no one, China has been trying to undermine that concept. In response, the Hong Kong people have engaged in massive protests over the course of several months.
Morey, like the vast majority of Americans, supports the Hong Kong people. Communist China, however, isn’t interesting in Western notions such as freedom of speech. After Morey’s tweet, Chinese TV stations said they wouldn’t air Rockets games. Chinese companies cut ties with the team, too. The Rockets have a special appeal in China, because Yao Ming, China’s most famous basketball player, played for the team.
The Chinese market is worth billions to the NBA. Last year, almost 500 million people in China streamed an NBA game. Forced to choose between principle or money, the NBA went for the cash.
The NBA initially issued a groveling and pathetic apology to China. Morey deleted his tweet and put out a hostage-style walk-back statement. China is still retaliating. It canceled the airing of NBA preseason games. It tore down posters advertising the NBA. It’s unclear if China will allow its citizens to watch NBA games this year.
After a bipartisan political blacklash, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver affirmed the league’s commitment to freedom of speech. Individuals in the NBA, however, have gotten the real message. Don’t you dare talk about China.
NBA players and coaches frequently talk about controversial political issues. League stars have given liberal views on everything from gun control to President Donald Trump to police shootings. It’s pathetic that they won’t stand up for a noble cause when it could hurt their pocketbook.
Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr and San Antonio coach Greg Popovich have both frequently attacked Trump. Neither would give a straight answer on China. Predictably, Trump weighed in.
Kerr was “like a little boy, he was so scared to be even answering the question,” Trump said. He accused both coaches of pandering to China.
Trump is right to blast them and everyone else in the NBA for their timidity. But Trump has yet to issue a full-throated endorsement of the Hong Kong protesters. There’s an easy way to fix that while highlighting the NBA’s moral cowardice. Trump’s next tweet should read: Fight for freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.