NBA has a China and a USA problem heading into season


The NBA will have to deal with its own protesters after its handling of Houston Rockets general manager’s tweet on Hong Kong protests.

With the NBA 2019-2020 season set to tip off on Tuesday, Oct. 22, the league is struggling to overcome financial and public relations nightmares involving its China market and a dismal showing by the U.S. national team at the FIBA World Cup.

On Oct. 5, Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted support for Hong Kong protesters in their objections to a proposed bill that would have allowed for the extradition of Hong Kong residents to China to face trial. The protests have escalated over the weeks into violent clashes with the police. And even though the proposed bill has been withdrawn, the protests continue with the focus on police brutality.

China does not normally take kindly to criticism from companies it does business with, and the NBA is a big business in China with a market of hundreds of millions of fans. China has hosted NBA preseason games, as has Japan. Ironically, the Houston Rockets have always been a popular team in China ever since the team drafted Yao Ming, the most beloved Chinese NBA player in history.

However, China took exception to Morey’s tweet in support of the Hong Kong protesters. Soon after the now-deleted tweet was posted, China canceled a preseason game and the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA)  – whose president is Yao Ming – decided to “suspend exchanges and cooperation” with the Rockets. That decision could end up costing the Rockets millions of dollars. 

This may seem like chump change to an NBA franchise, but could actually put a dent in their salary cap, which is the amount of money a team can spend on their players per year. The cap has gone increasingly up because it is based on the revenue brought in by a team per year.

In an effort to save the billion dollar Chinese market, both the NBA and the Houston Rockets organization condemned Morey’s tweet, saying his does not speak for the team or the league. 

The NBA then came under strong criticism from many Americans, including both progressive and conservative politicians, for seemingly caving in to what is generally considered to be an oppressive Chinese government for the sake of money. 

LeBron James even got involved in the foray when he labeled Morey “misinformed” and “not educated.” James, who usually speaks out against civil and human rights abuses, came under immediate criticism for putting his own financial interests ahead of any concern for the rights of the citizens of Hong Kong.

The escalation of the issue has led the all of the NBA’s Chinese business partners to cut ties with the league. As it stands now, the NBA is facing the loss of billions of dollars stemming from the Morey tweet. Additionally, many of its American fans are viewing the league as devoid of principles as it tied itself in knots to appease a government with serious civil rights problems for the sake of the almighty dollar.

The China issue came on the heels of the U.S. national team – devoid of the NBA’s biggest stars – made a poor showing at the 2019 FIBA World Cup. Ever since 1992, when the NBA allowed their players to play in international competitions, the United States has utterly dominated every event. With the exception of nine games in the span of twenty seven years, the US team has been near flawless. 

However, as the U.S. entered the 2019 FIBA (International Basketball Federation) World Cup, many were doubting the team which consisted of only three players that have previously represented the U.S. on an international stage in Kemba Walker, Harrison Barnes, and Mason Plumlee. 

With that being said, there is still a lot of talent on this team. Donovan Mitchell averaged 23.8 ppg this year for the Utah Jazz and led his team to their second straight playoff appearance. Jayson Tatum, who in his rookie year with the Celtics, averaged over 20 ppg in one playoff run, and led his team to the conference finals. So, even though the team was still very talented, some of the best players in the NBA declined their invitation or dropped off of the team in the months leading up to the FIBA World Cup. 

The best of the NBA, including LeBron James, James Harden, Steph Curry, and James Harden, made the decision to not play, whether it was to stay fresh for the upcoming season or to avoid risking injury. These are the players that have represented America numerous times and have won many gold medals in the Olympics and the World Cup. 

After an easy 21-point win over the Czech Republic, featuring a team high 16 points coming from Donovan Mitchell on 7-for-11 shooting from the field, the U.S. team was set to play Turkey, a team featuring NBA players Cedi Osman, Ersan Illyasova, and Furkan Korkmaz. That game went into overtime after a regulation time score was tied at 81-81. The U.S. team managed a one point in overtime thanks largely to four missed free throws by the Turkish team in the last minute. 

The next two games the U.S. rolled over Japan and Greece by a combined seventy points, putting the team in the quarterfinals to face off against France, lead by three-time all NBA player Rudy Gobert. And for the first time in 15 years, the U.S. team lost a game off a combined 43 points from Gobert and Evan Fournier. That loss eliminated the U.S. team from any shot at the World Cup championship.. After the loss to France, the U.S. team lost to Serbia and beat Poland, ending the tournament in seventh place.

Clearly, the headaches of a dismal showing by the U.S. team at the FIBA World Cup and the China fiasco is not how the NBA wanted to go into the 2019-2020 season.