Everyone in NBA should be willing to stand up for free speech
A typically dull week of NBA preseason was preempted by a rolling snowball of controversy in China.
It began with a seemingly innocuous tweet supporting Hong Kong protesters from Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey and grew into the Chinese government threatening all NBA business conducted in the country.
One group that would be good to hear from are the thousands, possibly millions, of NBA fans in China, particularly those who grew attached to the Rockets during Yao Ming's career. Are they upset that Rockets games may no longer be broadcast in China?
We don't know because those people are not allowed to publicly express dissenting opinions.
The events of the past week are much bigger than the NBA. How much money the league stands to lose in China or whether Steve Kerr is a hypocrite for not expressing a strong enough opinion is irrelevant.
What matters is the Chinese government swinging a sledgehammer in response to a single tweet from a U.S. citizen. This should serve as a harsh reminder that free speech is not guaranteed and the United States needs to be the world's foremost advocate for that right.
Say what you want about the NBA's carefully-crafted response. At least Commissioner Adam Silver supported Morey's right to express an opinion.
It's easy to see why so many people associated with the NBA are treading lightly right now, because there is a lot to lose. The league operates offices in Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong. A few months ago, the league renewed a deal with Chinese tech company Tencent to stream NBA game in China over the next five years, reportedly at a price of $1.5 billion.
Losing the Chinese market would affect the NBA's bottom line and probably result in a smaller salary cap. That's bad news for both players and owners, especially those owners who inked star players to hefty contracts based on where they thought the cap would be.
Nearly every NBA star makes regular visits to China, hoping to both expand their marketing base and connect with existing fans. Former Bull Derrick Rose was in China just before training camp began.
Dwyane Wade has his own shoe line sold exclusively in China, with stores in shopping malls all over the country. So it's understandable if LeBron James is hesitant to speak up, knowing something he says could ruin his friend's business.
Since Kerr, the Golden State Warriors coach, has been one of the league's most eloquent voices, he ended up caught in the middle of this controversy. But what he did say made plenty of sense.
"It is an absolutely tricky situation for all of us to be in," Kerr said this week. "From my perspective, the NBA is doing a lot of great things in terms of trying to unify people in the world. The game itself is a unifier. I think that's important.
"I'm very comfortable talking about what's going on in our country. I'm a citizen of our country. It's hard for me to make a comment on something that impacts so many people, different countries, different governments."
Sorry Steve, according to roughly 10,000 Twitter users (probably more), if you have a strong opinion about one topic, you must have a strong opinion on every topic.
Of course that's ridiculous. But the freedom to speak one's mind is not. True, the U.S. has limits to free speech and the line where it starts and stops is always blurry.
There should be no doubt about Morey's right to tweet about Hong Kong protests. Tread carefully about Chinese topics if you must, but everyone in the NBA can stand up for free speech.
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