NBA and China: a simple tweet that incites a war on the NBA in China

The Houston Rockets general manager posted a tweet of support for protesters in Hong Kong that ignited a storm inside China and across the US.

The tweet:

“Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.”

It referenced months of violent demonstrations in Hong Kong that started in opposition to a bill that would allow people to be extradited from Hong Kong to mainland China, where the judicial system exists largely without rules or boundaries.

Mainland China has watched the Hong Kong protests closely, as well as–apparently–its international supporters.

China’s response to the tweet? All 11 Chinese NBA brand partners ended their relationships with the league.

In the US, players, coaches and even the commissioner struggled with responses that would placate China while not upsetting US fans. They did neither.

Lebron James’s comments were uncharacteristically cringeworthy.

“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,” he said. “So many people could have been harmed, not only financially but physically, emotionally, spiritually. Just be careful what we tweet, what we say and what we do. Yes, we have freedom of speech but there can be a lot of negatives that come with that as well. … Sometimes social media is not always the proper way to go about things as well.”

His attempts got worse.

“Let me clear up the confusion,” he wrote. “I do not believe there was any consideration for the consequences and ramifications of the tweet. I’m not discussing the substance. Others can talk about that. My team and this league just went through a difficult week. I think people need to understand what a tweet or statement can do to others. And I believe nobody stopped and considered what would happen. Could have waited a week to send it.”

Warriors’ head coach Steve Kerr squirmed through his statement.

He said: “It’s a really bizarre international story, and a lot of us don’t know what to make of it. So, it’s something I’m reading about just like everybody is, but I’m not going to comment further than that.”

And then President Trump weighed in.

A reporter asked the President what he thought about the conflict between the NBA and China. Trump replied that the league and Beijing “have to work out their own situation.”

He quickly switched to dissing Warriors’ head coach, Steve Kerr.

“I watched this guy, Steve Kerr, and he was like a little boy, he was so scared to be even answering the question,” Trump said. “He couldn’t answer the question. He was shaking. ‘Oh, oh, oh, I don’t know. I don’t know.’ He didn’t know how to answer the question, and he’ll talk about the United States very badly.”

Because of the NBA’s high profile, its dispute with China played out in front of an enormous US audience, creating an opportunity for those of us who are not well-versed in international business to begin learning about its complexities.

Instead of elevating the discussion–by teaching what’s at stake, and leading us toward well-considered decisions–President Trump used the event to criticize a man who has been critical of him.

Let’s do better.

Let’s pull the lens back and think about a few, simple issues with regard to the NBA and China. Can the NBA strike an ethical stance while maintaining a relationship? What are the obstacles? Check out the discussion here.

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