Foreign firms urged to consider Chinese public sentiment
Tension between the National Basketball Association (NBA) and Chinese society triggered by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey's tweet in support of the Hong Kong protests escalated, with China's top sports television channel, an online sport broadcasting platform and several Chinese companies suspending cooperation with the league on Tuesday.
Chinese netizens vowed to draw a clear line with the NBA after league Commissioner Adam Silver defended Morey, who showed solidarity with Hong Kong rioters in his tweet.
Anta, one of China's largest sportswear brands, was the latest to suspend contract renewal negotiations with the NBA, saying on Tuesday night that Chinese basketball fans were shocked and dissatisfied with the Rockets manager and Silver's "erroneous" remarks.
Before Anta, national broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) and Chinese live streaming platform Tencent sports channel, which bought the NBA online broadcast rights, said on Tuesday that that they will immediately suspend broadcasts of NBA pre-season games in China.
Smartphone vendor VIVO and coffee brand Luckin also announced a halt to their cooperation with the NBA.
CCTV reported on Tuesday night that at least nine of 25 NBA official partners in the Chinese mainland would suspend cooperation with the league.
CCTV also said all cooperation with the NBA should be reviewed.
The CCTV channel said it strongly disapproved and objected to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver's response. "We believe that any speech that challenges national sovereignty and social stability does not fall within the scope of freedom of speech."
The announcement came after Silver apparently backed the stance of Morey.
Morey tweeted on Saturday an image captioned "Fight For Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong" , which was later deleted.
After CCTV and Tencent suspended NBA broadcasts, Silver made a statement trying to clarify the NBA's stand.
"It is inevitable that people from around the world - including from the U.S. 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 cannot operate that way," read a statement on the NBA website Tuesday.
Silver said Monday in Tokyo ahead of a preseason game between the Rockets and Toronto Raptors that his organization backs Morey's right to speak his mind on the Hong Kong issue, Japanese media outlet Kyodo News reported.
A few angry Chinese netizens said, "9/11 is a beautiful date for the U.S.. After all, freedom of speech." This has been exaggerated by some U.S. media and Twitter users to hype the tension between the NBA and China.
Chinese observers said these extreme comments are inappropriate and disrespectful, which the majority of Chinese people don't agree with, but it should remind Western media that for Chinese people, the Hong Kong riots are just like the 9/11, which is horrible and can't be justified.
So when a few of them see a foreigner use "freedom of expression" to justify the statement that seriously harmed their feelings, they decided to make disrespectful comments as well in the name of "freedom of expression,"said the observers.
U.S. Republican Senator Marco Rubio also joined the fray by tweeting on Monday that "NBA players…apologize to China for a pro-democracy tweet from an NBA team executive. Hypocrites."
Shen Yi, a professor at the school of international relations and public affairs of Fudan University in Shanghai, said that U.S. politicians who hold an anti-China stance like Rubio only care about hyping tensions to get votes from conservative U.S. voters, and they don't care about the loss and damage to China-U.S. ties and people-to-people exchanges.
"The NBA is just a sports or entertainment brand, which is not a necessity to Chinese people…so they (NBA executives) are unqualified to lecture Chinese about what freedom of expression is when they don't care about our feelings. Politicians like Rubio are trying to hijack the NBA to further escalate the tension, and they are actually destroying U.S. soft power in China, and this is ignorant and arrogant."
Celebrities speak out
Silver's comments have irritated Chinese celebrities and netizens, including many basketball fans.
The nine-member Chinese pop band Unine, actors Li Yifeng and Bai Jingting, singer Fan Chengcheng, who is actress Fan Bingbing's younger brother, and three other Chinese celebrities said they would not attend the NBA Fan Night scheduled on Wednesday.
The U.S. basketball league launched NBA China 10 years ago. According to Forbes in 2018, NBA China was worth more than $4 billion, or $133 million for each team. The league signed a $700 million, 5-year deal with Tencent in 2015 for Tencent to broadcast NBA games and other content on its digital platforms. That deal has been so successful that spending on NBA merchandise will top $800 million.
Chinese netizens have criticized the NBA for double standards and called for a boycott of the NBA.
"Ok fine, you and your NBA get out of China with your so-called freedom of speech. We will always adhere to our belief that national sovereignty is a bottom line for all Chinese," wrote a netizen on China's twitter-liked Sina Weibo, whose sentiments were echoed by others.
Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was banned for life from the NBA and fined $2.5 million in 2014 following an investigation into alleged racist comments he made over the phone to his ex-girlfriend, according to foreign media reports.
On Tuesday, China's Ministry of Foreign Affairsurged foreign organizations which intend to operate smoothly in China to understand Chinese sentiments first, in response to the decision of CCTV to suspend broadcasts of NBA pre-season games in China.
For a foreign organization to operate smoothly in China, understanding Chinese sentiments is pertinent, the ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said on Tuesday afternoon at a regular press conference.