NBA-China Controversy

Latest On NBA/China Controversy

The storyline that dominated NBA headlines during the preseason has fallen off the radar to some extent with the regular season underway, but that doesn’t mean league and team executives aren’t still concerned about the NBA’s relationship with China.

League sources tell Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN.com that NBA leadership is monitoring the trade negotiations between the United States and China in the hopes that a resolution on that front will help thaw the league’s relationships in its “most profitable foreign market.” Those relationships have been frosty since Rockets general manager Daryl Morey published a tweet supporting pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong.

Tencent – the NBA’s streaming partner in China – has resumed broadcasting games, but still isn’t showing Rockets contests, as Arnovitz details. Meanwhile, China’s state-run network CCTV hasn’t shown any regular season games at all. While the NBA has remained in contact with CCTV officials, there’s no sense of when the impasse may be resolved.

Arnovitz’s full story at ESPN.com provides an exhaustive, in-depth look at where things stand between the NBA and China, and is worth reading in full. Here are a few more highlights from the report:

  • Terminated sponsorships with Chinese companies have affected teams around the NBA, not just the league itself, according to Arnovitz, who hears that one club immediately reduced its 2019/20 projections for revenue derived from Chinese sponsorships to zero. The Rockets have been hit particularly hard, having lost $7MM+ in cancelled sponsorship agreements for this season, and $20MM overall once multiyear deals are taken into account.
  • Beyond the financial ramifications, some NBA front offices have been “shaken by the turmoil” caused by the drama with China, league sources tell ESPN. As Arnovitz explains, the league has enjoyed increasing revenues and positive media coverage for years, but the China controversy has tested the idea that any issue can be managed.
  • Many team executives would like the league to establish guidelines for dealing with potentially sensitive political topics, since teams and players will likely have to answer those questions in the future — especially on trips to China and India, among other countries. League sources have acknowledged the need for those guidelines, Arnovitz says.
  • Rival executives don’t expect this controversy will impact Morey’s ability to do his job. However, sources close to the Rockets view the marriage of Morey and team owner Tilman Fertitta as a “tenuous fit,” according to Arnovitz. Fertitta has been more averse to paying the tax than his predecessor Leslie Alexander was, and quickly denounced Morey’s tweet last month, announcing that the GM’s views didn’t reflect that of the organization.

And-Ones: Wade, China, Stoudemire, Contracts

Six months after retiring as a player, Dwyane Wade is employed in a new capacity. According to an official press release (via NBA.com), Wade has reached a multiyear, multi-platform agreement with WarnerMedia, and will become a basketball commentator for TNT this season.

In addition to appearing on the network’s NBA broadcasts, Wade will make studio appearances during Turner Sports’ and CBS Sports’ NCAA tournament coverage later in the season.

“I’m thrilled and grateful to be joining the WarnerMedia family with many exciting opportunities ahead,” Wade said in a statement. “I have great respect for TNT’s team of analysts and their longstanding commitment to quality sports coverage. After sixteen seasons in the NBA, I look forward to connecting with my fans in this new role and bringing my own perspective to the game I love.”

Here’s more from around the NBA and the rest of the basketball world:

  • Chinese state television didn’t air the NBA’s opening-night games on Tuesday, while Chinese streaming partner Tencent only showed the Lakers/Clippers game, per ESPN’s Dave McMenamin and Brian Windhorst. CCTV typically shows the league’s opening-night doubleheader, but Tuesday’s decision is a signal that the ongoing NBA/China controversy is far from settled. NBA commissioner Adam Silver said earlier this week that the league has “no choice but to engage” China, as Ben Cohen of The Wall Street Journal details.
  • Speaking of China, former NBA All-Star Amar’e Stoudemire has signed the Fujian Sturgeons of the Chinese Basketball Assocation, according to reports from Roi Cohen of Sport5 and Emiliano Carchia of Sportando (Twitter links).
  • ESPN’s Bobby Marks provides some financial details on the rookie scale extensions signed on Monday, outlining (via Twitter) exactly how much bonus money is included in five of those deals. Marks also identifies four players who will receive increased partial guarantees as a result of remaining under contract with their respective teams through Wednesday (Twitter link). Those players are Christian Wood (Pistons), Jordan McRae (Wizards), Kendrick Nunn (Heat), and Trey Burke (Sixers).
  • In a conversation with Max Resetar of SLAM, good friends Karl-Anthony Towns, Devin Booker, and D’Angelo Russell joked about eventually teaming up. “When we’re all on the same team—I ain’t gonna tell you which team because I don’t know—we’re gonna do this again,” Russell said of the joint interview. While we probably shouldn’t assume the trio is destined to form a Big Three down the road, it’s worth noting that both Towns and Booker tried to recruit Russell to their respective teams when he was a free agent this summer.

Chinese Television Lashes Out At Silver, Morey

China has vowed “retribution” against NBA Commissioner Adam Silver for his role in last week’s standoff between the nation and the league, writes Catherine Wong of The South China Morning Post (hat tip to NBC Sports).

In a commentary that aired today, state-run CCTV claims Silver “crossed the bottom line” with his continued support of Rockets GM Daryl Morey, who set off the dispute with an Oct. 4 tweet supporting pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.

Silver said this week that Chinese officials had demanded that Morey be fired, but the commissioner refused to take any disciplinary action, citing the right to free speech. However, China’s foreign ministry spokesman, Geng Shuang, disputed that claim yesterday.

“Silver has spared no effort to portray himself as a fighter for free speech and used freedom of speech as an excuse to cover for Morey, who voiced his support for the violent actors in Hong Kong,” CCTV said. “This has crossed the bottom line of the Chinese people.”

The broadcast also accused Silver of having “double standards” and charged that he “defamed” China in front of an international audience.

“To please some American politicians, Silver has fabricated lies out of nothing and has sought to paint China as unforgiving,” CCTV claimed. The network also accused Morey of having “problems in his character” and promised he “will receive retribution sooner or later.”

Charania’s Latest: Kings, J. Brown, Rockets, China, More

One complicating factor in the Kings‘ contract extension negotiations with Buddy Hield is the four-year, $85MM deal the team did with Harrison Barnes earlier this offseason, writes Shams Charania of The Athletic. According to Charania, Sacramento has already expressed some remorse over that deal, since it has set a precedent in talks for Hield and may impact the Kings’ ability to complete extensions for other key players.

Meanwhile, in other rookie scale extension news, Charania says several teams around the NBA are monitoring the negotiations between the Celtics and Jaylen Brown. Sources tell Charania that those teams are waiting to see if they’ll get a chance to “make Boston and GM Danny Ainge pay” with a big offer sheet for Brown next summer.

Here’s more from Charania:

  • The NBA/China controversy appears to be at an impasse for now, with teams around the league waiting to see how Chinese TV networks handle opening night on Tuesday. It’s not clear if China will lift its suspension of NBA broadcasts at that point or if it will continue to blackball telecasts, according to Charania.
  • With Gerald Green potentially out for the season due to a foot injury, the Rockets are “scouring the market” for help on the wing, says Charania. Houston discussed some Andre Iguodala trade scenarios with the Grizzlies, but is reluctant to go way into luxury-tax territory by trading for Iguodala, Charania adds.
  • Charania provides updates on a pair of roster battles, writing that Javonte Green is the favorite to become the Celtics‘ 15th man over Max Strus, while Marquese Chriss is “moving closer” to claiming a regular season roster spot with the Warriors.
  • Free agent swingman Iman Shumpert has spoken to a few teams, including the Bulls and Grizzlies, Charania reports.
  • Charania suggests that Bulls forward Chandler Hutchison has suffered a hamstring strain in “recent days.” His wording makes it sound like it’s either a different injury than the strain Hutchison suffered in early September or a re-aggravation of that injury. The second-year Bull is expected to miss more time, league sources tell Charania.

Adam Silver: China Wanted Daryl Morey Fired

OCTOBER 18: Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang has said the Chinese government didn’t demand Morey’s firing, per an Associated Press report.

OCTOBER 17: Appearing on Thursday at the TIME 100 Health Summit (link via Sean Gregory of TIME), NBA commissioner Adam Silver told Robin Roberts that the Chinese government wanted Rockets general manager Daryl Morey fired in the wake of his tweet expressing support for protestors in Hong Kong. However, the league refused to entertain that idea.

“We made clear that we were being asked to fire him, by the Chinese government, by the parties we dealt with, government and business,” Silver said. “We said there’s no chance that’s happening. There’s no chance we’ll even discipline him.”

After Morey published and then deleted his tweet, Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta issued a statement saying that the GM didn’t speak for the franchise and that the Rockets aren’t a “political organization.” However, that was about as far as the team or the league went in denouncing Morey. Silver later made a statement saying that the NBA supported Morey’s freedom of expression, a point he reiterated during his conversation with Roberts.

“These American values — we are an American business — travel with us wherever we go,” Silver said. “And one of those values is free expression. We wanted to make sure that everyone understood we were supporting free expression.”

Silver also said last week that he and the NBA understand that freedom of expression doesn’t mean freedom from consequences, and the league has been feeling the financial consequences of the China controversy.

At the TIME event on Thursday, the NBA commissioner said the league is not only “willing” to cope with lost revenues from China, but that it already is coping with those losses, which have been “substantial.”

“I don’t know where we go from here,” Silver said. “The financial consequences have been and may continue to be fairly dramatic.”

NBA/China Notes: LeBron, Silver, Yao, Tencent

After making some eyebrow-raising comments about Rockets GM Daryl Morey and the NBA/China controversy on Monday, LeBron James briefly addressed the subject again on Tuesday, telling reporters that he hopes tension between the two sides dies down. However, as Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.com details, James made it clear that he doesn’t want to continue discussing the situation going forward, preferring to focus on the Lakers‘ quest for a championship.

“I’d be cheating my teammates by continuing to harp on something that won’t benefit us,” James said. “We’re trying to win a championship. That’s what we’re here for. We’re not politicians. It’s a huge political thing. But we are leaders and we can step up at times. I’m not saying at this particular time, but if you don’t feel like you should speak on things, you shouldn’t have to.”

James’ critical comments of Morey didn’t go over well in Hong Kong, where protestors chanted support for the Rockets’ GM on Tuesday, per an ESPN report. At that protest, LeBron jerseys were trampled and even burnt.

Here’s more on the ongoing NBA/China situation:

  • Commissioner Adam Silver never did meet with Chinese Basketball Association chairman Yao Ming while he was in China, but they were speaking at least 10 times per day, a person with knowledge of the situation tells Tania Ganguli of The Los Angeles Times.
  • Ganguli also writes that the NBA’s Chinese streaming partner Tencent, which suspended its broadcasts of preseason games in the wake of Morey’s tweet, resumed those broadcasts on Monday without explanation.
  • Dave McMenamin of ESPN shares an engaging deep dive into the Lakers‘ and Nets‘ meeting last week with Silver in Shanghai, providing details on how LeBron and Kyrie Irving spoke up during that session. Among McMenamin’s interesting tidbits: James, Anthony Davis, Kyle Kuzma, and Rajon Rondo all had promotional appearances in China canceled, with one unnamed Lakers player losing a $1MM endorsement deal with a Chinese company due to the controversy. Based on a separate report from Bill Oram of The Athletic, that player may have been Kuzma.
  • In a column on the China controversy, Sam Amick of The Athletic notes that Morey’s initial tweet supporting Hong Kong protestors was sparked by a specific development. Sources tell Amick that Morey’s message came in response to a new law enacted in Hong Kong banning face masks during public gatherings. The law is “widely seen as a tactic to identify dissidents,” Amick adds.

Lakers Notes: Davis, Kuzma, LeBron, China

The Lakers provided some injury news on two of their key players on Monday, issuing updates on Anthony Davis and Kyle Kuzma.

As we noted on Monday afternoon, an ESPN report indicated that an MRI on Davis’ sprained right thumb came back clean, which the Lakers essentially confirmed late last night. According to the team (via Twitter), AD is being listed as day-to-day after undergoing tests on his thumb, which suggests he still has a decent chance of playing in the team’s regular-season opener a week from tonight.

Meanwhile, Kuzma, who was diagnosed last month with a stress reaction in his left foot, has been cleared for non-contact activity, per head coach Frank Vogel (Twitter links via Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN). Asked about Kuzma’s status for next Tuesday’s opener, Vogel responded, “We’ll see,” adding that the forward will also be considered day-to-day.

As we wait to find out whether Davis and Kuzma are ready to go for opening night, here’s more on the Lakers:

  • In his first public comments on the NBA/China controversy on Monday night, LeBron James was critical of Rockets GM Daryl Morey, as Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN details. James speculated that Morey was “misinformed” and “wasn’t educated” about the situation in China when he sent his now-infamous tweet supporting Hong Kong protestors.
  • James later sought to clarify his comments in a pair of tweets, suggesting that he meant Morey didn’t understand the ramifications his message would have. James also said the tweet was poorly timed, since the Lakers and Nets showed up in China just a few days later and had a “difficult week.” However, LeBron was still widely criticized for his stance, with Dan Wolken of USA Today calling it “the most disgraceful moment” of the superstar’s career.
  • Mark Medina of USA Today takes a look back at the Lakers’ “difficult” week in China, exploring how they coped with being placed in the middle of an international incident. As Medina writes, Vogel referred to the team’s time in China as a “really productive trip” despite the unexpected drama.
  • Dwight Howard‘s presence on the Lakers’ roster this season is a reminder of what’s at stake for the franchise with Anthony Davis this season, according to Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report. Howard’s previous one-and-done stint with the Lakers in 2012/13 is, of course, exactly what the team wants to avoid with Davis.

NBA/China Notes: Lakers, Nets, Rockets

While a debate raged stateside last week over the NBA’s handling of a controversy fueled by a Daryl Morey tweet expressing support for Hong Kong protestors, Lakers and Nets players found themselves in the eye of the storm as they prepared to play a pair of exhibition games in China. As Shams Charania of The Athletic and ESPN’s Rachel Nichols report, those players met with commissioner Adam Silver to discuss potential next steps when he arrived in Shanghai last Wednesday.

Charania describes Silver as being “extremely thoughtful and transparent” in talks with Lakers and Nets players, coaches, and executives, while Nichols refers to the meeting as “tense.” Multiple sources tell Charania that LeBron James said he believed Silver and the NBA had a responsibility to talk to the media about the situation in more depth before asking the players to do so. Players also spoke about wanting to feel safe and protected during the China trip without being put into unfair positions, Charania notes.

“Being in China, where there was no way of knowing what the Chinese government was thinking or going to do next and the high stakes between the U.S. and China politically, it was almost impossible for these young players to manage through that situation,” a source with knowledge of the meeting told Charania. “Obviously, if they were in the United States or somewhere else, it would have been totally different and handled differently.”

The exhibition games in Shanghai and Shenzhen took place as scheduled, though there was some skepticism earlier in the week that they would happen at all. According to Charania, a “sizeable amount” of players on the Lakers and Nets felt as if it would be best to cancel those games due to the ongoing chaos.

With both teams now back in America, here’s the last on the NBA/China saga:

  • Sources told Charania that some Lakers and Nets players lost money over broken deals in Shanghai, since they ended up not making planned sponsorship appearances. Charania also reports that at least two Rockets players had sponsorship negotiations with Chinese companies hit an impasse in the wake of Morey’s tweet.
  • Several executive and ownership sources who spoke to Charania believe Silver will “regain a foothold” in the league’s relationship with China, but fear “irreparable losses” for the Rockets going forward. China’s response to Morey’s tweet may end up costing the Rockets approximately $25MM in sponsorship money this season, one source estimates to Marc Stein of The New York Times.
  • During last week’s meeting with Lakers and Nets players in Shanghai, Silver was asked directly whether anything would happen to Morey, per ESPN’s report. According to ESPN, multiple players said they thought that if a player cost the league millions of dollars with a tweet, there would be repercussions. Morey won’t face any discipline from the league, which seems like the right call, since his message ostensibly showed support for human rights and democracy.
  • Tom Ziller of SBNation explores the two potential paths the NBA/China controversy could take from here.

NBA Won’t Hold Media Availability For Rest Of China Trip

The Lakers and Nets remain on track to play the second exhibition game of their China trip on Saturday in Shenzhen, but the NBA announced today that players on both teams will no longer be required to speak to reporters before or after that game.

“We have decided not to hold media availability for our teams for the remainder of our trip in China,” the league said in a statement, per Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com. “They have been placed into a complicated and unprecedented situation while abroad and we believe it would be unfair to ask them to address these matters in real time.”

The NBA reportedly cancelled pregame and postgame press conferences on Thursday in China involving Lakers and Nets players and commissioner Adam Silver at the behest of the Chinese government. But sources tell McMenamin that the league made today’s decision independently.

Although the NBA has nixed its scheduled media sessions, the Lakers and Nets are free to conduct their own media availability, a league spokesman said. However, the NBA ran its plan by players and representatives from the players’ union before making its announcement, a source tells McMenamin. So it’s unlikely that players from either team will actively seek out reporters to comment on the situation while they remain in China.

Here are more of the latest notes on the NBA/China controversy, which began when Rockets GM Daryl Morey tweeted support for protestors in Hong Kong:

  • In today’s statement, the NBA referred to its players in China being placed in a “complicated and unprecedented situation” — that’s a feeling held by many of those players, writes Ian Begley of SNY.tv. They feel they are in tough spot because they’re going to have to talk about things that they aren’t well-versed on,” someone in touch with two players currently in China told Begley. “They thought they were here to play basketball and entertain, and it’s turned into a circus.”
  • Adam Silver spoke earlier this week about wanting to sit down with former Rockets star and current Chinese Basketball Association chairman Yao Ming, but as of Thursday, that meeting had not yet happened, writes Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today. A source told Zillgitt that Yao wasn’t even in his hometown of Shanghai on Thursday when the Lakers and Nets played there.
  • John Hollinger of The Athletic, who spent nearly seven years in the Grizzlies’ front office, explored the possible impact the NBA/China controversy might have on the league’s salary cap going forward, a subject we touched on yesterday. Hollinger notes that it’s tricky for teams’ cap gurus to make an accurate estimate because of the complicated math involved in incorporating international money into the league’s BRI — on top of that, those specific revenue figures aren’t widely available.

NBA/China Notes: Shanghai Game, Irving, More

Although the Lakers/Nets exhibition game in Shanghai took place as planned this morning, it was hardly a typical preseason affair. Scheduled pregame and postgame press conferences for commissioner Adam Silver and players on both rosters were cancelled at the behest of the Chinese government, sources tell Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

As McMenamin writes, China also had a hand in cancelling two NBA Cares events involving Lakers and Nets players earlier this week as tension between the league and its top international market continues to simmer.

Still, while the Chinese government has been on the attack over the last several days as it seeks an apology from the NBA over Daryl Morey‘s tweet supporting Hong Kong protestors, Keith Bradsher and Javier C. Hernandez of The New York Times report that the government attempted on Thursday to tamp down on public anger toward the league.

According to the Times duo, the Chinese government seems to be reevaluating its all-out campaign against the NBA due to concerns in Beijing that the situation is hurting China’s image and interests globally. Editors at state-run news outlets have now been told to avoid fanning the flames on the NBA controversy “for fear that it might become overheated,” per Bradsher and Hernandez, who cited three journalists.

As we wait to see how the situation plays out going forward with a second Lakers/Nets exhibition schedule for Saturday in Shenzhen, here are a few more items of interest:

  • During a press conference following the Rockets/Raptors exhibition game in Tokyo today, a Rockets official stopped Russell Westbrook and James Harden from answering a question related to the China controversy, insisting that reporters only ask questions about basketball. Per an ESPN report, the NBA issued a statement indicating it doesn’t condone that approach. “A team representative inappropriately interjected to prevent CNN’s Christina Macfarlane from receiving an answer to her question,” the league said. “We’ve apologized to Ms. Macfarlane as this was inconsistent with how the NBA conducts media events.”
  • NBA player agents are advising their clients to avoid addressing the China situation if they can, writes Jabari Young of CNBC. “What I told my guys is, ‘Don’t even talk about it,'” one agent told Young. “I think it’s a fine line, and when you’re walking that fine line, it’s best to not even play around with it.”
  • The NBA’s chilly relationship with China is apparently impacting another basketball league — according to an announcement on their website, the BIG3 is postponing a visit to China that was scheduled for the month of November. Rashard Lewis, Mike Bibby, Glen Davis, and Cuttino Mobley were among the former NBA players expected to participate.
  • While the game itself between the Lakers and Nets today was practically an afterthought, it’s worth noting that Kyrie Irving was knocked out of the game just one minute into the first quarter after he took a shot to the face. According to Brian Lewis of The New York Post (Twitter link), Irving – who was already recovering from a facial fracture – was diagnosed with a facial contusion. The team doesn’t seem worried that it’s serious, Lewis adds.