Basketball and the NBA are popular in China, and Yao Ming came to be the face of China through his play in the NBA. Even though Ming retired nearly ten years ago the Houston Rockets are one of the most popular NBA teams in China. American teams have been allowed to play in China for many years and NBA games are broadcast on the state-run media. China is a completely closed society and NOTHING occurs without government authorization and control. Nike is the company that benefits the most from the China-NBA relationship. Sales of Nike apparel exceeded $6.2 billion in fiscal year 2019, a 24% increase from the previous year. This only takes into account mainland China, Nike sales are quite strong in Taiwan and throughout Southeast Asia as well. On October 4 Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey made a seemingly harmless tweet in support of the Hong Kong protestors. His tweet read, “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong.” The tweet ignited a firestorm between China and the NBA . China immediately cut all ties with the Rockets and pressured the NBA to fire Morey. China also suspended multiple business deals with the league and state broadcaster CCTV halted all broadcasts of preseason games. NBA commissioner, Adam Silver, defended Morey despite financial consequences to the league. Rather than supporting Morey and American values, LeBron (King) James attacked the tweet saying that Morey “wasn’t educated on the situation at hand.” He went on to say, “I just think that when you’re misinformed or you’re not educated about something you never know the ramifications that can happen, not only for our league but for all of us in America, for people in China as well.”
Although some agreed with LeBron James (such as Charles Barkley) others have spoken up in support of GM Morey. Shaquille O’Neal was not afraid to stand up to Chinese threats and money when he stated, “One of our best values here in America is free speech. We’re allowed to say what we want to say and we’re allowed to speak up about injustices, and that’s just how it goes. If people don’t understand that, that’s something they have to deal with.” The NBA has taken stances on moral grounds in the past and even moved the NBA Allstar Game from North Carolina over a sexual orientation bathroom bill. They can’t assume the moral high ground when convenient and not at other times. According to Commissioner Silver monetary losses to the league have been substantial but he refuses to acquiesce to Chinese demands. Freedom is an inalienable right and no government should deprive its citizens of many of the same rights we enjoy in the U.S. Protestors in Hong Kong are risking their lives in a quest for freedom. LeBron and Nike will survive the loss of some their generous income!