The NBA, Nike, and the Refusal to Condemn the Chinese Regime’s Abuses

October 29, 2021 Updated: October 30, 2021


The author W. Clement Stone famously urged Americans to choose courage over cowardice. “Have the courage to face the truth,” he wrote. “Do the right thing because it is right. These are the magic keys to living your life with integrity.”

One wonders what the great man would have to say about the NBA and Nike.

On Oct. 20, Enes Kanter, a center for the Boston Celtics, posted a rather provocative video on social media. Infuriated by China’s treatment of Tibet, Kanter called Chinese leader Xi Jinping a “brutal dictator.” The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) responded by wiping the Celtics’ games from the NBA’s Chinese broadcast partner.

Kanter’s message was as simple as it was poignant: “Free Tibet.” “Under the Chinese government’s brutal rule,” according to the 29 year old, “Tibetan people’s basic rights and freedoms are non-existent.”

Kanter, who previously wore trainers with the message “Free Tibet” emblazoned on them, was right to speak out, even if the NBA has yet to offer him support.

I reached out to the NBA for comment on the matter. Like Kanter’s comments, my requests were met with a deafening silence.

Epoch Times Photo
Enes Kanter of the Boston Celtics looks on before during the Celtics home opener against the Toronto Raptors at TD Garden in Boston, Mass., on Oct. 22, 2021. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Nevertheless, what’s occurring in Tibet deserves to be discussed, even if the NBA would prefer its athletes not to be the ones discussing such occurrences.

“Offenders must be punished hard and swiftly, public security and cultural market administrators must investigate and prosecute them with awesome power.” These are the words of Dong Yunhu, a man tasked with the job of clearing up “Tibet Independence propaganda.”

Yunhu’s words, uttered back in 2015, have had very real consequences. In an op-ed for Newsweek, Sam Brownback, who formerly served as U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for international religious freedom, and Ngodup Tsering, the Dalai Lama’s right-hand man, discussed the plight of “Tibetan Buddhists, along with people of faith from every corner of the CCP’s reach.” Their persecution, according to the authors, “continues unabated.” The CCP, we’re told, “manages every aspect of spiritual and educational activities,” with the outlawing of prayer flags, religious rituals, and festivals. Tibet’s “two biggest, most historic monasteries have been demolished.” Meanwhile, the Tibetan language, “a key component of the preservation of the essence of Tibetan Buddhist principles,” is being targeted, with the Chinese regime aggressively forcing “students to switch from their native language to Mandarin,” the authors warned.

Tibet is now a police state. According to a report published by Freedom House, it is now the least free region in the world.

Kanter deserves credit for refocusing our attention on the abuses occurring in Tibet.

The NBA, on the other hand, deserves a great deal of criticism for its silence, as well as its acquiescence to the Chinese regime.

If Kanter’s comments bring a sense of déjà vu, it’s because we have been here before. In 2019, the NBA was “forced” to beg China for forgiveness. Why? Because Daryl Morey, then manager of the Houston Rockets (now the president of basketball operations of the Philadelphia 76ers), had the temerity to voice his support for pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong. NBA executives, clearly desperate to protect their billion-dollar deals in China, quickly distanced themselves from Morey’s comments. Two years later, although they have yet to distance themselves from Kanter’s comments, NBA representatives have been conspicuously silent.

Of course, the NBA is not alone in its silence. Kanter, a vocal critic of tyrannical regimes around the world, has also criticized Nike for its hypocrisy.

On Oct. 25, during the Celtics’ game against the Charlotte Hornets, Kanter wore a pair of trainers adorned with the following three words: “modern day slaves.” He then released a video, titled “Dear Nike,” condemning the sportswear company for profiting from Chinese slave labor. “Who makes your shoes in China? Do you even know?” asked Kanter. “Nike remains vocal about injustice [in the US], but when it comes to China, Nike remains silent.” His message was accompanied by the hashtag “#EndUyghurForcedLabor.”

I also reached out to Nike for comment on the matter. Again, no comments were offered.

Like the NBA, Nike’s moral failings are also worthy of harsh criticisms. However, the sports company’s abdication of common decency should come as no surprise. In 2015, the NBA and Nike signed an eight-year contract worth somewhere in the region of $1 billion. Although both the NBA and Nike are free to do business in any country of their choosing, we have every right to question their moral values, or lack thereof. Kanter, to his credit, has helped refocus the light on matters of suppression and slavery.

Sadly, major corporations appear to have little interest in the preservation of human rights. By enabling the CCP, Nike and the NBA are in fact enabling the persecution of innocent people in Tibet and Xinjiang. Sadly, as long as they continue to make money, expect their undying loyalty to Beijing to continue.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

John Mac Ghlionn is a researcher and essayist. His work has been published by the likes of the New York Post, Sydney Morning Herald, Newsweek, National Review, The Spectator US, and other respectable outlets. He is also a psychosocial specialist, with a keen interest in social dysfunction and media manipulation.