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Daily Drip

If the Houston Rockets Make it to the Finals, Will China Un-Cancel Them?

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The Houston Rockets have made it through to the Western Conference semifinals against the LA Lakers. Millions of fans will be tuning in to watch the game — but will that include those in mainland China?

With the Rockets making headway in 2020’s unconventional NBA season, fans are starting to wonder if Tencent, one of China’s biggest streaming platforms, may be forced to end their broadcast ban.

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China and the Rockets have not had an easy relationship. In October 2019, an image posted to Twitter by the Rockets’ general manager Daryl Morey expressed support for Hong Kong protesters, and sparked backlash from Chinese businesses and social media users who called for him to be fired. The Rockets’ owner Tilman Fertitta fired off a quick tweet about the incident, distancing the team from Morey’s statement — but the damage had already been done.

The Rockets faced severe repercussions, with the Chinese Basketball Association stating it would suspend all cooperation with the team. Rockets games stopped airing in China, and sponsors like Li-Ning suspended their ties with the team.

Tencent was also put in a difficult position. Having signed a lucrative five year deal with the NBA for 1.5 billion USD, they had just become the NBA’s “exclusive digital partner in China,” and the league’s largest partnership outside of the US. Their eventual decision not to air Rockets games has remained in effect ever since.

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But now that the Rockets have made the semifinals, will the ban on their games still stand? If the ban remains in effect, it would be a blow to the 500 million basketball fans who use the platform to watch NBA games.

And what about if the Rockets end up going all the way to the finals? In 2018, 21 million people in China tuned in to the NBA finals — that’s more than the number of Americans who watched it. With both Tencent and the NBA poised to lose big if the finals don’t receive a Chinese broadcast, it may be enough of a reason to extend an olive branch.

Chloe Yorke
    Chloe was born in Hong Kong and grew up in Shanghai and San Francisco. She is currently studying Chinese at Durham University in the UK and is passionate about Chinese art and culture.