Yao Ming

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.

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.

Tension Between NBA, China Continues To Grow

Several days after Rockets general manager Daryl Morey deleted his now-infamous tweet expressing support for protestors in Hong Kong, the NBA and its partners in China don’t appear to be moving any closer to resolving the controversy it created.

Early on Tuesday morning, NBA commissioner Adam Silver followed up on the brief statement issued by the league on Sunday by publishing a new, lengthier statement which sought to clarify the NBA’s stance on the situation. In the statement, which can be read in full right here, Silver offered the following thoughts:

“Over the last three decades, the NBA has developed a great affinity for the people of China. We have seen how basketball can be an important form of people-to-people exchange that deepens ties between the United States and China.

“At the same time, we recognize that our two countries have different political systems and beliefs. And like many global brands, we bring our business to places with different political systems around the world.

“But for those who question our motivation, this is about far more than growing our business.

“Values of equality, respect and freedom of expression have long defined the NBA — and will continue to do so. As an American-based basketball league operating globally, among our greatest contributions are these values of the game.

“… It is inevitable that people around the world — including from America and China — will have different viewpoints over different issues. It is not the role of the NBA to adjudicate those differences.

“However, the NBA will not put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees and team owners say or will not say on these issues. We simply could not operate that way.”

In response to Silver’s latest missive, the Chinese state-run television network CCTV announced it would be suspending its broadcasting agreement for NBA preseason games, writes Arjun Kharpal of CNBC.

As Stephen Wade and Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press explain, the Lakers and Nets are scheduled to play in Shanghai in Thursday and Shenzen on Saturday, and while those games are expected to proceed as planned, they won’t be aired by CCTV. Silver admitted the league wasn’t expecting the network to take those measures, per The Associated Press.

“But if those are the consequences of us adhering to our values, I still feel it’s very, very important to adhere to those values,” the NBA commissioner said.

It’s not clear if the “temporary” broadcast suspension will last into the regular season, but CCTV issued a statement in Chinese (translated by MSNBC) making it clear that it wasn’t happy with the stance taken by Silver and the NBA:

“We are strongly dissatisfied and we oppose Silver’s claim to support Morey’s right of free expression. We believe that any speech that challenges national sovereignty and social stability is not within the scope of freedom of speech.”

According to comments relayed by Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer (Twitter link), Silver still intends to attend Thursday’s exhibition contest in Shanghai and hopes to meet with the appropriate officials there to find common ground with the league’s partners in China. However, he added that he’s a “realist” and recognizes that the issue may not be resolved quickly.

Silver also said that he plans to meet this week with Yao Ming, the former Rockets center who is now the chairman of the Chinese Basketball Association (Twitter link via Rachel Nichols of ESPN).

I’m hoping together Yao and I can find an accommodation, but he is extremely hot at the moment and I understand it,” Silver said.

While Silver’s latest press release asserted that the NBA’s stance is about more than “growing [its] business,” the commissioner acknowledged to Joel Fitzpatrick of Kyodo News on Monday that the controversy has already affected the league’s bottom line. According to The Associated Press’ report, the NBA’s agreement with Chinese streaming partner Tencent, which has said it will no longer show Rockets games, is worth $1.5 billion over the next five years.

However, Silver insisted that that those business issues wouldn’t affect the league’s support of Morey and others exercising their freedom of expression.

“There is no doubt, the economic impact is already clear,” he told Fitzpatrick. “There have already been fairly dramatic consequences from that tweet, and I have read some of the media suggesting that we are not supporting Daryl Morey, but in fact we have. I think as a values-based organization that I want to make it clear…that Daryl Morey is supported in terms of his ability to exercise his freedom of expression.”

And-Ones: Felder, Yao Ming, China

Kay Felder is a potential target for China’s Xinjiang Flying Tigers, Emiliano Carchia of Sportando reports. The team is expected to sign either Felder or Ty Lawson to replace another former NBA player, Ian Clark, who is sidelined by a finger injury.

A second-round pick by the Cavaliers in 2016, Felder was waived by the Raptors’ G League team in December after a domestic violence allegation. Felder, who appeared in 58 NBA games for Cleveland, Chicago and Detroit, played for Xinjiang last season after he was waived. The Flying Tigers’ interest in Lawson was previously reported.

We have more from the basketball world:

  • There doesn’t seem to be a star on the level of Yao Ming coming from China in the near future, Marc Spears of ESPN writes. Currently, there are no Chinese players who could make a sure-fire impact in the NBA and commissioner Adam Silver hopes that will change. “It frustrates me that there are no Chinese players in the NBA,” he said. “There’s probably more basketball being played in China than anywhere else in the world. And more NBA basketball is being watched in China than anywhere else in the world.”
  • An Atlantic City, NJ casino owned by Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta can now accept bets on NBA games, according to Wayne Parry of the Associated Press. New Jersey governor Phil Murphy has signed a bill allowing Atlantic City’s Golden Nugget casino, owned by Fertitta, to handle NBA bets that don’t involve the Rockets.
  • Former Hawks guard Malcolm Delaney will play in Spain this season. Get the details here.

And-Ones: 2019 World Cup, Bryant, 2019 Draft

With the 2019 World Cup in China now just 10 months away, FIBA has announced that Kobe Bryant and Yao Ming will serve as global ambassadors for the event, taking part in activities leading up to next year’s tournament to help promote the event.

“Growing up in Italy and spending many years visiting China, I have always appreciated the global impact that basketball has had on the positive development of young people,” said Bryant, who has long been one of the NBA’s most popular players in China. “I’m honored FIBA has invited me to serve as an ambassador for the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019. I hope my participation inspires and motivates the best players from the 32 participating teams to represent their respective country on the world’s biggest stage. I look forward to seeing who will lift the trophy next year.”

Team USA hasn’t technically qualified for the 2019 World Cup yet, but is in position to do so comfortably, with a 7-1 record in qualifying games so far.

Here’s more from around the basketball world:

  • The struggling Cavaliers were the first NBA team to make major changes during the 2018/19 campaign, parting ways with Tyronn Lue and making major adjustments to their rotation just a handful of games into the season. Matt John of Basketball Insiders explores which teams around the league might be next to shake things up.
  • Firing a head coach is generally the simplest way a team can shake things up when it’s struggling, but the coach isn’t always to blame, writes Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders. Meanwhile, an NBA.com panel explores which coaches might be feeling the heat next in the wake of Lue’s dismissal.
  • ESPN’s NBA draft gurus continued to examine the 2019 class this week, with Jonathan Givony and Mike Schmitz offering up their positional rankings for next year’s draft, while Givony, Schmitz, and Kevin Pelton attempt to answer some big questions about 2019’s class. Within that latter discussion, Givony suggests that none of the candidates for the No. 1 overall pick in 2019 have emerged as a lock.

And-Ones: Cavs, Bogut, Barnes, Holiday

The Cavs won’t make a decision on Larry Sanders until after the trade deadline, Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com passes along (ESPN Now link). Cleveland is also keeping an eye on the Andrew Bogut situation. The Cavs would like to bring the center aboard and they’re expected to be in the mix for him.

Here’s more from around the league:

  • Several teams have expressed interest in Matt Barnes, Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com tweets. Sources tell Shelburne that he’s waiting until after the trade deadline to make a decision.
  • Jarrett Jack will audition for the Pelicans, Marc Stein of ESPN.com tweets. New Orleans is pursuing backcourt help after trading away several players in the DeMarcus Cousins deal.
  • Point guard and pending free agent Jrue Holiday said the Pelicans “see me as a part of [the future],” the team tweets. The organization is calling Holiday, DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis their version of a Big Three.
  • Mike Bibby and Ricky Davis will be the co-captains of the Ghost Ballers, the fourth official team in the new 3-on-3 league, according to a press release on BIG3.com.
  • Thunder center Enes Kanter returned to practice on Wednesday for the first time since undergoing arm surgery, Royce Young of ESPN.com reports. It’s uncertain whether Kanter, who suffered a broken arm punching a chair on the bench on January 26th, will return to action on Friday against the Lakers.
  • Former Rockets center Yao Ming, who was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame last year, has been appointed as president of the Chinese Basketball Association, according to an ESPN.com report. He gave up ownership of the league’s Shanghai Sharks in order to take over his new role.

Chris Crouse contributed to this post

And-Ones: Draft, Yao, LeBron

James McAdoo, Roscoe Smith, James Bell, Chris Fouch, Luke Hancock, and Niels Giffey all worked out for the Sixers today, reports Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer. All project to be selected in the second round at best, where Philadelphia owns five draft picks. Here’s a roundup of the night’s news, including plenty from the draft:

  • The Bucks are having some difficulty scheduling pre-draft workouts with Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins, and Jabari Parker, director of scouting Billy McKinney tells Charles F. Gardner of The Journal Sentinel“I still think there’s a lot of thinking on their agents’ part of, ‘Hey, he’s not going to be there [at No. 2].'” McKinney said. “We’re going to have to be a little creative…which you have to do certain times to go out and get your private discussion and workouts in. That’s all part of it.”
  • C.J. Fair will workout for the Bucks and Hornets this week, tweets Adam Zagoria of SNY.tv.
  • Wally Judge will work out for the Jazz, tweets Zagoria.
  • A front office executive tells Gino Pilato of D-League Digest that P.J. Hairston is expected to go either late in the first round, or early in the second.
  • Former Pelicans forward Lance Thomas will be among players participating in a mini-camp at the Nets facility next week, Zagoria reports (via Twitter).
  • Yao Ming earlier denied reports that he was assembling an investment group to purchase the Clippers, but told news outlets including ChinaDaily USA that he won’t rule out the possibility he will. “I know there are a lot of rumors, but I don’t think I have time to clarify the rumors one by one,” Yao said. “Nowadays, sports are globalized, and anything is possible, but so far, there is nothing substantial.”
  • In the case that LeBron James decides to opt out and leave the Heat in the offseason, Dwyane Wade doesn’t want the blame to be laid on his performance or health issues, he told Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today“Just don’t solely put it on me,” Wade said, laughing. “That’s what I’m saying. Don’t put the X on me… There’s a lot that goes into [the decision], so just don’t say, ‘If Dwyane Wade doesn’t have the year that we’re accustomed to, it’s over.'”

Chuck Myron contributed to this post.

Grant Hill, Yao Ming Seek Purchase Of Clippers?

9:00pm: Grant Hill has partnered with billionaire investors and longtime Southern California residents Tony Ressler and Bruce Karsh to form an ownership group to bid on the Clippers, Marc Stein of ESPNLosAngeles.com reports.

SATURDAY, 11:41am: Yao has denied the report, telling Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle that the news took him by surprise. “I just heard about it in the morning my time,” Yao said via email. “I really don’t know where this news came from.”

FRIDAY, 6:45pm: Both Grant Hill and Yao Ming are lining up investor groups to try and purchase the Clippers, sources tell Stein. While the Clippers aren’t yet for sale, disgraced owner Donald Sterling will likely sell the team, either by cooperating with the league or by a forced ouster. Hill, who retired from playing just under a year ago, has made it known within league circles that he’s putting together a group to pursue the team once it’s available. Since retiring, Hill has been rumored as a front office executive for the Suns and, more recently, the Pistons.

It appears Yao could be further along in the process than Hill. Yao already owns a team in China, and is expected to pursue the Clippers with a group of Chinese investors. Stein reports that Yao was initially interested in purchasing the Bucks, but dropped out of the bidding when former owner Herb Kohl insisted a new owner would keep the team in Milwaukee.

Yao and Hill join a growing list of potential buyers that includes Magic Johnson‘s Guggenheim Partners, among others. The franchise is expected to sell for over $1 billion, and a large-scale bidding war is a possibility. While Yao and Hill might not be quite as compelling as Johnson in reversing the negative attention brought on the NBA by Sterling’s actions, both are highly respected potential Hall-of-Famers that the league would presumably be more than comfortable with as franchise owners.

Eddie Scarito contributed to this post.