For the Los Angeles Lakers, it’s a trip they’d rather forget. They lost two games, were in the middle of a geopolitical storm, and may be missing forward Anthony Davis for an extended period with a thumb injury.
The Brooklyn Nets beat the Lakers 91-77 in Shenzhen, China today. Protests were mostly quiet, as a call on Chinese social media for a boycott didn’t materialize. Some fans wearing National Basketball Assn. gear taped over the NBA logo or wore a Chinese flag as a form of protest.
Neither team had a pre-game or post-game media session, as the league hoped to sneak out of China without further inflaming the government’s raw nerves. Already, a CNN correspondent asking a question in China at an NBA media session was shut down, although a league official later apologized for that action by an overzealous Houston Rockets PR person.
The two-game Nets/Lakers series in Shanghai and Shenzhen may be the last NBA appearance in China for a while. The league has played there every year but one since 2007. It’s also in doubt whether television on NBA games or streaming on social media will be permitted this year.
The NBA now must navigate the uneven path between China’s sensitivities and US sentiments. China provides a billion-dollar market, estimated at 10 percent of the league’s revenue for media rights, apparel and other items. Meanwhile, US lawmakers and others have criticized the league for its less-than full-throat defense of free speech and human rights.
The China problems began Oct. 4, when Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted an image that said “Fight For Freedom. Stand With Hong Kong.” That set off the Chinese government, who saw it as interference in an internal matter by a business partner.
The fallout was swift. Chinese Basketball Assn. president Yao Ming, a former Rocket, Basketball Hall of Famer and key man to NBA/China partnerships, skipped the league’s appearance in his Shanghai hometown. Events to promote the Lakers-Nets series were canceled, ad banners were taken down, sponsorships cancelled, and NBA media partner Tencent said it was evaluating its plans to cover the league. China state broadcaster CCTV did not air either preseason game.
Now comes the hard part, as NBA players and executives will be unable to dodge the issue back in the states. How the league proceeds from here is unclear, but certainly its woke status on domestic issues will now be impacted by its refusal to stand up for Hong Kong. It may be a world game, but the ball is clearly in China’s court.