What if I told you that we knew that this was going to be an unusual NBA season before a single game was played.
Because before David Stern died. Before we lost Kobe Bryant, before anybody knew what COVID-19 was, before the NBA headed to Orlando to enter the bubble, before Lou Williams taught the world that exquisite cuisines do exist inside of strip clubs, and before Danuel House turned himself into the ultimate Jeopardy question by getting kicked out the bubble because he had an “unauthorized” female guest in his room for hours, there was a clue that this season was going to be unlike any other.
On October 4, Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey tweeted six words that potentially changed the NBA forever.
“Fight for Freedom, Stand with Hong Kong.”
As you can guess, the tweet has been deleted, but not before it set off an international firestorm that fused together sports, foreign policy, and global economics.
China was pissed and shut the NBA out. The NBA went into full-damage control mode. And Morey went into hiding and has stayed there.
In January, it was reported that the fallout from China’s decision to pull sponsorships and television coverage due to Morey’s tweets in support of anti-government protesters in Hong Kong could cost the league between $150 million and $200 million. Salary cap projections of $116 million were going to fall to $113 million due to the loss of revenue from China.
“I’m staying out of it,” said James Harden at the time. “I’m focusing on what we have and trying to get better. We’re a week and a half away from the regular season.”
The league was hoping that its players could fix things with China, even though they had nothing to do with this.
“We all talk about this freedom of speech,” said LeBron James. “Yes, we all do have freedom of speech, but at times there are ramifications for the negative that can happen when you’re not thinking about others, and you’re only thinking about yourself. I don’t want to get into a … feud with Daryl Morey, but I believe he wasn’t educated on the situation at hand and he spoke.”
Last week, it was reported that the league’s salary cap could stick around $109 million for the next two seasons due to coronavirus, as it feels like that has had more of an effect on the league’s finances than Morey’s tweet.
“Congratulations @Lakers - thank you to the @Disney and @NBA employees who worked long hours to make the bubble possible,” Morey tweeted Saturday night after the Lakers eliminated his team.
If you were hoping for a juicy tweet from Morey then you were wasting your time. The man is playing in the background and has kept his head down. It feels like Adam Silver has him on a strict gag order, and Morey is following his rule.
That won’t stop Morey from being in the news this offseason as the team he constructed has a ton of decisions to make.
Will there be a coaching change?
Can Harden and Russell Westbrook coexist?
And where do the Rockets and their small-ball scheme go from here?
There are also questions about Morey’s job status.
But, while all that will be figured out at some point in the near future, right now we should all take a step back to realize what Morey represents, as he’s become an example for how things that may feel important at the moment may not be the case when the dust settles.
Because what Daryl Morey ultimately has taught us, by accident, is that the 2019-2020 NBA season will be one that the league and its fans will never forget. In any other season, Morey’s action that led to the NBA’s biggest business partner cutting off ties would have been the story of the year. But as we head to the conference finals, Morey has been relegated to footnote instead of a headline.
That’s how absurd this season has been.
Buckle up, we still have one quarter left.