By Mike Wilcox
I’m a hoops junkie. I play and watch basketball every chance I get. I traveled all over the country attending NBA playoff games way back when. Not any more, but I do watch NBA games on the TV frequently.
That’s why I’ve taken a more than precursory interest in China’s dismay over the Houston Rockets’ general manager’s tweet that supported the protestors in Hong Kong.
For those unaware, they have taken to the streets the last 18 weekends to protest the Chinese government and so-called restrictions that make the former British territory less than democratic.
The Chinese government did not view the Houston GM’s tweet as harmless and demanded an apology from the NBA. It also suspended selling some league merchandise in China.
“So what? It’s China, not basketball-crazed America,” you say. You should be aware China has more than 300 million people playing some form of basketball and NBA merchandise captures a huge market, much greater than you might imagine.
China’s actions and threats were not taken with a grain of salt. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver jumped on a plane and flew to Beijing, faster than Space X’s rocket made it into the atmosphere. He was commissioned with appeasing China, yet making those of us in America understand that his basketball league also believed in the cause of freedom Hong Kong so desperately sought.
A monumental tightrope indeed, and I’m not sure he has been successful walking it. Freedom of speech, long been a hallmark of our democracy, seems to have taken a backseat. NBA coaches and players alike have been muzzled when it comes to the Hong Kong situation. Coaches Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors and Greg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs have been extremely outspoken against President Trump and his government, but when it comes to criticizing the Chinese they have nothing to say.
I believe coaches and players have been directed by Silver, under no uncertain terms, not to comment on the Hong Kong situation. He only has to point to the Chinese basketball market and tell his underlings at some point it will be bigger than the U.S. He will remind them that the NBA has the inside track, having nurtured international basketball, and in particular China, for many years.
He will also remind others that the U.S. has a terrific ambassador in Yao Ming, a 7’6” Chinese player who made a huge impact in the NBA as a player and statesman, and is now in charge of basketball in China. Silver believes Ming can help enormously in bridging the gap between U.S. capitalism and Chinese authoritarianism.
When all is said and done at least one fan will think less of the NBA. I would have liked Silver to lend kudos to the Houston GM and his tweet for Hong Kong.
America, in many respects, has become too beholden to China. A strong stance might make the Chinese realize they need the NBA as much as it needs them. After all, we can take our basketball-playing icons and Nike shoes and be just fine. I’m not sure China can do just as well with CBA rejects and Alibaba knockoffs.