Can China Afford to Lose the NBA?

Can China Afford to Lose the NBA?
A worker tears down a poster promoting a game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets in Shanghai, China, Oct. 9, 2019 (Photo by Yu Zhongyue for Imaginechina via AP Images).

Editor’s Note: Every Wednesday, WPR Newsletter and Engagement Editor Benjamin Wilhelm curates the week’s top news and expert analysis on China.

Last Friday, Daryl Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets, provoked a fierce backlash from China when he tweeted in support of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters. The since-deleted tweet led to a number of Chinese companies pausing their ties with the NBA, which initially expressed regret for the statement but has since offered a stronger defense of Morey’s statement. China is the NBA’s largest overseas market, so NBA officials have scrambled to contain the fallout. But the situation also presents a challenge to Beijing, as American basketball is immensely popular in China.

Morey’s initial tweet had featured an image with the protest slogan “Fight For Freedom. Stand With Hong Kong.” He walked back the tweet Sunday, and the NBA released a statement calling Morey’s post “regrettable.” But a Chinese-language statement issued by the league’s official account on Sina Weibo, a popular social network in China, took a more strident tone toward Morey’s tweet, saying it was “extremely disappointed in the inappropriate comment.” The reason for the discrepancy between the two statements is unclear, but the NBA subsequently clarified that only the English version should be considered its official statement.

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