Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey tweeted in October, before the start of the season, a message to support pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong amid a Chinese Communist Party crackdown. As a result, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver quickly apologized for his comment in what was seen as overly capitulating to the regime.
But Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James went a step further and criticized Morey. “Yes, we do have freedom of speech, but at times there are ramifications for the negative that can happen when you are not thinking about others and only thinking about yourself,” James told reporters in October. “I believe he wasn’t educated on the situation at hand and he spoke, and so many people could have been harmed not only financially but physically, emotionally, spiritually.”
For the claim, LeBron drew heavy backlash, and many claimed he was ignoring China’s historically poor human rights record. Two months after his comment, users are still criticizing him on social media whenever he posts.
A reporter, John Ourand with Sports Business Journal, tweeted that the NBA’s ratings have plummeted in 2019-2020.
Ourand wrote that TNT’s NBA coverage is down 23 percent and ESPN is down 20 percent over last year. The league is showing “double-digit drops nationally,” he remarked.
Ourand and other pundits didn’t link the drop and ratings to the China comments.
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban wrote that ratings are down because cable broadcasters have the lion’s share of games.
“Ratings are down because all of our national broadcasts are exclusively available on cable, which is losing subs daily. Football benefits from being on broadcast tv which is in every digital and traditional package along with gambling available in some of the biggest markets,” he tweeted in November.
Pundits at Yahoo Sports also speculated that the ratings have dropped because the Golden State Warriors aren’t very good this year.
“With nearly every player you can name (and all the big draws of casual fans) gone or out injured, it’s not a surprise, but the Warriors are one of the league’s worst teams and hard to watch right now,” Yahoo wrote.
However, following James’ comments, fans threatened to boycott the league.
Meanwhile, lawmakers in Congress urged in October the NBA to cut its ties with the Chinese regime.
“You have more power to take a stand than most of the Chinese government’s targets and should have the courage and integrity to use it,” the bipartisan letter to the NBA read, AFP reported. “It’s not unreasonable to expect American companies to put our fundamental democratic rights ahead of profit.”