The National Basketball Association found itself in the middle of a political firestorm of its own making when the Houston Rockets' general manager tweeted something simple and admirable: “Fight for Freedom, Stand with Hong Kong.” The NBA’s first statement was cowardly. It began “We recognize that the views expressed by…Daryl Morey have deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China, which is regrettable.” Morey buckled and deleted his tweet.
The NBA then went overseas to grovel.
A statement posted on the NBA’s Weibo social media network in China stated that they were “extremely disappointed in the inappropriate comment,” and as a result, Morey “has undoubtedly seriously hurt the feelings of Chinese basketball fans.” China is a huge and lucrative market for the NBA. If business means turning your back on freedom while defending one of the most brutally repressive regimes in human history -- so be it.
That abject surrender, that spineless concession to a government now shooting pro-democracy protesters in the streets drew near-universal condemnation in America, ranging in Washington from conservative Sen. Ted Cruz to socialist Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. So the NBA commissioner, Adam Silver, readjusted to insist the league would not discourage their athletes or executives from speaking freely. “We are not apologizing for Daryl exercising his freedom of expression” – which is disingenuous. That is exactly what all of their “extremely disappointed” remarks implied.
And the duplicity continued. In Philadelphia, a 76ers fan named Sam Wachs and his wife brought a pair of signs that read "Free Hong Kong" and "Free HK" as the Sixers took on the Guangzhou Loong-Lions, a Chinese Basketball Association team. Wachs said he lived in Hong Kong for two years, so he sympathized with the protests. First, security confiscated their signs. When they yelled "Free Hong Kong" during the second quarter, Wachs said, they were removed from the game.
Then the same Chinese team played the Washington Wizards in D.C., and the routine repeated itself. Several fans standing with a sign reading "Free Hong Kong" and "Google: Uighurs" had them confiscated prior to the game. (The Uighurs are a Muslim minority in northwestern China, with an estimated one million people held in concentration camps.)
The NBA now doesn't want to be political. But it's been very political on the home front, when it has suited its purposes, which is to say, when it placates the left. The league moved the 2017 All-Star Game out of Charlotte over a state law that in government offices, transgenders should use the bathroom of their gender “assigned at birth.” The NBA commissioner criticized President Trump’s travel ban from seven Muslim countries as going “against the fundamental values and the fundamental ingredients of what makes for a great NBA.”
The NBA allowed their players to wear "I can't breathe" shirts to protest police after Eric Garner suffocated while laying down on the sidewalk in New York. National Review's Jim Geraghty underlined the hypocrisy: "Apparently the NBA is fine with protesting American police brutality, but not Hong Kong police brutality."
Speaking of American police brutality, nobody's found Colin Kaepernick saying anything about China's grip on the NBA. The man whose Nike sneaker-selling slogan was "Believe is something, even if it means sacrificing everything" is silent while Nike orders the removal of all the Houston Rockets merchandise from their stories in China. Apparently, America is still the most horrible country in the world that was founded on racism, slavery, and genocide.