I’m not sure what’s more obvious: A media outlet taking the NBA to task for a multiyear partnership with the United Arab Emirates, or the inevitable controversy that will come of it. It doesn’t take long to unearth copious amounts of dirt about the UAE’s record and ongoing pursuit of human rights violations toward women — marital rape is still lawful, among other awful shit — so it’s fair to question whether the financial benefit of a couple preseason games is worth the PR headache.
Forgive me if I come off as cynical, or as if women’s rights weren’t considered by the NBA in this decision, but either the league was OK with the country’s human rights issues or that slide didn’t make the Powerpoint.
However, this move is extremely on-brand for the NBA, which has been expanding its international reach since David Stern was commissioner. Adam Silver has since taken that torch and seems intent on lighting himself on fire with it.
Prior to trying to solve Ben Simmons, then-Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey tried to solve democracy in Hong Kong with a tweet. Silver was forced to step in, and he eventually issued the right statement despite it upsetting the NBA’s Chinese partners”
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.
That last bit is particularly grandstanding considering China’s many human rights issues and controversies (like a tennis player going missing after accusing an official of sexaul assault). Acting like businesses don’t make concessions in the name of capitalism is un-American, so I can understand not severing ties with China over an outspoken GM or Boston games not airing in the country because of Enes Kanter’s takes on Tibet.
What I don’t get is starting a new partnership with a similarly problematic country, especially when you’re in the habit of touting equality and the WNBA with ads like this. The NBA also announced Jr. NBA Leagues, NBA Fit Clinics and an NBA 2K event along with the preseason games. But I didn’t see any WNBA games announced in the UAE deal — probably because WNBA players aren’t shy about saying and showing how they feel.
To be fair, NBA players have been brazen with their thoughts on civil rights at home, so perhaps that attitude will carry over to international issues now that we’ve had a semi-reckoning with the activist athlete. If that is the case, and LeBron James is as informed as he alleged Morey wasn’t during the China fallout, the NBA could have protests prior to preseason games and an entirely new set of relations to mend (or ignore until fans forget).
This deal isn’t quite the WWE-Saudi Arabia cash grab. (Anytime you can link up with the people responsible for headlines like “Saudi Crown Prince Is Held Responsible for Journalist Killing in U.S. Report,” you have to do it.) That said, the fact that the NBA is in the same neighborhood as the WWE should’ve raised a red flag or 70 at the league offices.
Silver came off eloquent and steadfast in his handling of the Hong Kong situation, but he’s risking that reputation for more reach and revenue with this UAE union that is so obviously fraught with potential complications.
Who knows, maybe I’m part of the woke mob Aaron Rodgers was talking about, but it feels like the NBA’s “commitment to growing basketball around the world” is less about teaching children the values they claim the games instills and more about the capital added consumers would inject.