NBA commissioner Adam Silver has released a second public statement regarding the controversy over Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s tweet in support of Hong Kong pro-democracy protests, and the Chinese government’s punitive response to the tweet.
The league office’s first attempt at an official response, issued over the weekend as the full scope of the Chinese government’s reactionary tantrum was still taking shape, amounted to Hey, don’t ask us about that Morey individual, we at the NBA are friends of the People’s Republic of China. As you might imagine, this went over very badly with critics from basically all sectors of American politics, who rightly saw it as an American sports league rolling over for a repressive totalitarian regime for the sake of preserving its ability to sell things to that regime’s subjects. In the new statement, which acknowledges the failure of the first, Silver is at pains to clarify that actually, the NBA is good, strongly supports everybody thinking it is good, and has values.
Here is the statement in its entirety, per NBA.com:
I recognize our initial statement left people angered, confused or unclear on who we are or what the NBA stands for. Let me be more clear.
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.
In fact, one of the enduring strengths of the NBA is our diversity — of views, backgrounds, ethnicities, genders and religions. Twenty-five percent of NBA players were born outside of the United States and our colleagues work in league offices around the world, including in Beijing, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Taipei.
With that diversity comes the belief that whatever our differences, we respect and value each other; and, what we have in common, including a belief in the power of sports to make a difference, remains our bedrock principle.
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.
Basketball runs deep in the hearts and minds of our two peoples. At a time when divides between nations grow deeper and wider, we believe sports can be a unifying force that focuses on what we have in common as human beings rather than our differences.
What seems worth noting here is that this is the exact same statement as the first one, worded more diplomatically on the second try.
So, for example, the first statement said “While Daryl has made it clear that his tweet does not represent the Rockets or the NBA, the values of the league support individuals’ educating themselves and sharing their views on matters important to them.” The new statement touts the league’s commitment to free expression and diversity, and asserts the league’s refusal to act as the speech cops. That’s essentially the same pair of sentiments—this Morey asshole speaks for himself, and please congratulate us for not shooting him for it—but this time, packaged more attractively as an affirmative stance for Things Everybody Likes, rather than a craven attempt at putting distance between the league itself and the idea that a movement to resist the destruction of pluralist freedoms might be something Americans should support.
The first statement called Morey’s tweet—again, seven words in bland support of the idea that the people protesting for the preservation of their rights in Hong Kong ought not to be destroyed for doing so—“regrettable” and included a plea for “sports and the NBA” to be used as a “unifying force to bridge cultural divides and bring people together.” The second statement expresses a boneless hope that “whatever our differences, we respect and value each other” and a limp preference for American and Chinese people, who might disagree on the issue of whether or not the Hong Kong demonstrators ought to have their eyeballs shot out, to focus instead on “what we have in common as human beings.” Namely: Basketball is awesome. Again, this is the same sentiment—Instead of saying things that make the Chinese government mad, let’s stick to sports—expressed in a more affirmative way, as a brave stance in favor of everybody getting along.
It almost goes without saying that the objective here is not to take any kind of actual courageous or even legibly moral stance with respect to free expression or pro-democracy protests, but rather to give distractible pundits and media types here on the home front a plausible pretext for moving on to whatever the next thing will be. Then the NBA could return to its business of making deals with the totalitarian government of China, secure in the knowledge that nobody is paying much attention. In that latter respect, the statement already has failed, and spectacularly: China’s state television network, CCTV, announced overnight that, in response to Silver’s anodyne expression of liking it when everybody regards the NBA as cool and good, it will be suspending its broadcast of NBA games in China.
Here’s CCTV’s statement, as translated by CNBC:
We have noticed that Adam Silver, the Commissioner of the NBA, who is participating in an event in Japan, has responded to Houston Rockets general manager Morey’s post of inappropriate Hong Kong-related remarks. 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.
To this end, CCTV Sports Channel of the Central Radio and Television Administration has decided to immediately suspend the current broadcast arrangements of the NBA pre-season (China Games) and immediately investigate all cooperation and exchanges involving the NBA.
Huh. Why, it’s almost as though the league’s stated commitment to pluralist values clashes directly and irreconcilably with its business partnerships inside a repressive totalitarian society, and it is being forced to choose between those values and the money it stands to make off its access to the Chinese economy. For all that Daryl Morey and Xi Jinping may have in common as human beings, this is about what the NBA and the government of China have in common as vast inhuman machines, and what they’re willing to ignore for the sake of it.