We’ve been taken on something of a journey over the past several weeks by China and their thin-skinned government’s attempt to pressure everyone into forgetting that Hong Kong exists. Specifically, it seems that Beijing is quite afraid of any person with a platform showing any support for the ongoing protests in Hong Kong, which much of the world sees as an attempt to stave off an authoritarian government with a history of human rights abuses. While much of the eSports gaming world has taken the cowardly step to self-censor — going so far as to punish those competing in a fairly hamfisted manner — there is also this NBA…thing.
That front of this Orwellian war began when Daryl Morey, GM of the Houston Rockets, tweeted fairly benign support for the protests. The Rockets are quite popular in China, as is the NBA, and China took an opportunity to ape extreme offense at Morey’s tweet. This, despite the fact that Twitter is effectively banned and blocked on the Chinese mainland. Despite that fact, the NBA first made unfortunate noises in apologizing to the Chinese government, before Commissioner Adam Silver eventually walked that back after a public backlash. Silver instead came out in support of players and team officials speaking their minds and attempted to retrieve the NBA’s one-time position as one of the most progressive and “woke” professional sports leagues in America.
It seems that Beijing really wasn’t playing around, however, as Silver revealed in a recent interview that China actually asked him to fire Morey.
In case you cannot watch the video, Silver revealed that China asked him to fire Morey and that he refused. He then went on to note that his recent trip to China in the wake of this controversy was conducted at least in part to give Beijing a firm understanding that his league would not again kneel at the altar of their ginned up hurt feelings. The Deadspin rightly calls this what it is: domestic damage control.
“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 does deserve credit for not firing Morey on the spot, and the NBA certainly has caught more flak despite doing less to mollify China than the scores of other, larger companies who have happily rolled over and shown the Chinese government their bellies. Today’s comments are damage control—not with the Chinese officials he has been dealing with for a week now, but with American fans who are pissed at the league and its most prominent player for playing China’s game.
Indeed. And, while it can be difficult for a money-making organization to show some spine against an adversary wielding the world’s second largest economy, stories like this are evidence for exactly what will happen if lines in the sand are not drawn. China, and authoritarian regimes, will demand more and more influence over American companies that should at least pretend to have American values.
Is the NBA some knight on a white horse here? Hell no. But the NBA’s reaction to public pressure in America is certainly something that would be welcome in the eSports industry.
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