In some ways it already feels like months ago that Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey sparked an almighty furore by posting a tweet in support of protests in Hong Kong. In reality it’s been just over a week. In the aftermath, a flurry of Chinese companies announced they were “suspending ties” with first the Rockets and then the entire NBA as the story spiralled.
One name that particularly stood out amid the rush to condemn was Tencent, the Chinese tech giant whose video streaming arm had just renewed its rights to showing NBA games to the tune of 1.5 billion USD over the next 5 years. But on Monday, Tencent broadcast two pre-season games, showing the Chicago Bulls versus Toronto Raptors and Minnesota Timberwolves taking on Maccabi Tel Aviv. From the looks of the NBA mini-site, Tencent Video also seems set to livestream Detroit Pistons against Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday.
Tencent Video’s NBA home page
Tencent’s apparent resumption of livestreaming NBA games quickly made it onto trending topic lists on social media, with numerous comments on Weibo accusing them of only caring about the money. Tencent for their part argued that they’d only said they would suspend broadcasts of the two NBA China Games played in Shanghai and Shenzhen last week.
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Writing in The Athletic ($), Shams Charania says that during the China Games, “several prominent players voiced frustration about their perception that they were being put in the middle of the dispute between the NBA and China.” Charania also reports that the situation for the Lakers and the Nets on the ground in Shanghai and Shenzhen was “tense”; at a meeting in China led by LeBron James, concern was reportedly expressed about the situation the players were being placed in by the league’s statements.
Lakers’ LeBron James on NBA’s China controversy: “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.” pic.twitter.com/KKrMNU0dKR— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) October 15, 2019
Lakers’ LeBron James on NBA’s China controversy: “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.” pic.twitter.com/KKrMNU0dKR
— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) October 15, 2019
A combination of moves by the Chinese authorities and the NBA ended up meaning the players’ media obligations were cancelled during the trip. James has since spoken publicly about Morey’s tweet, stating that he felt the Rockets GM “wasn’t educated on the situation.” James’ stance has gone down well among many Chinese fans, but heavily criticized in numerous US media outlets.
This perhaps speaks to a wider issue for the NBA on how to protect and educate its players regarding political topics involving its overseas markets, especially given the league’s long-held stance of allowing its employees to speak out on sometimes sensitive matters.
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In a sign of how strongly feelings have been running over Morey’s tweet and the NBA’s handling of the subsequent backlashes on both sides of the Pacific, even China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs was asked to comment on Tencent’s resumption of its coverage. In stating that he couldn’t get into specifics over individual relationships, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang responded that “sport has played an active role in promoting Sino-US friendship” and that the Chinese authorities always took the principle that “mutual respect is vital” in such matters.
State broadcaster CCTV has yet to resume its broadcasts of NBA games, though it will be interesting to see whether their stance softens as the start of the regular season approaches.
Cover photo: Markus Spiske on Unsplash
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