The National Basketball Association has a large following in China. That is not news. It was news, though, when a general manager openly supported the freedom movement in Hong Kong. That caused a rift that was healed recently with little to no fanfare.
“On the eve of the current NBA playoffs, the league’s games returned to state-run TV in China after a nearly three-year ban. It was a quiet return, with nary a word from New York or Beijing trumpeting the apparent end of a bitter conflict,” reported ESPN on Thursday.
Why the secrecy?
“The owners had reason to stay quiet: In addition to the money their teams derive from the NBA’s $5 billion business in China, many have significant personal stakes there through their other businesses,” the report added.
Neither NBA commissioner Adam Silver nor deputy commissioner Mark Tatum commented on the lifted ban. NBA spokesperson Mike Bass said, “We continue to believe that exporting media rights of NBA games to fans in more than 200 countries and territories around the world, including China, is consistent with our mission to inspire and connect people everywhere through the power of basketball.”
Robert Kuhn, a longtime adviser to Chinese political leaders and multinational corporations operating in China, said the NBA would likely be at odds with its social justice messaging while appeasing China’s leaders for years to come.
“This is a significant issue and problem that American companies have,” said Kuhn. “It’s a tension between those two poles … to see companies promoting social justice in the U.S. but staying silent on what would be perceived to be far worse issues in China. This is going to be an issue for the rest of our working lives.”
Why we have to do business with China in the first place never seems to get asked.