What’s Happened So Far?
The NBA saw the immense power a seven word tweet can have when Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted support for political protests in Hong Kong days before the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets were scheduled to play two preseason games in China. His tweet included a caption that read, “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.”
The post was quickly deleted but a wave of backlash from the Chinese government had begun to swell. Advertisements in China for the immensely popular NBA were taken down, public appearances – including some charity events – were canceled, media access to players was denied and the exhibition games were not aired on Chinese television.
Economic Repercussions for the NBA
The NBA walked a moral and financial tightrope in its response. Commissioner Adam Silver released an initial statement describing the incident as “regrettable” but did not discipline Morey despite pressure from the Chinese government. China has since denied requesting Morey be fired but the monetary impact the situation could cause the NBA can’t be disputed.
Approximately 800 million people in China watched part of at least one NBA game last year. More people watched last season’s NBA finals between the Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors in China than in the United States. Bloomberg estimates the financial losses to be in the billions of dollars. Silver would only describe the fallout as “fairly dramatic.”
The economic impact on the league trickles down to its players. For years NBA stars have expanded their brand and bank accounts in the Chinese marketplace. One of those players is the Lakers’ LeBron James. In fact, the four-time MVP had visited China annually for 15 years before his team’s most recent visit.
Did Lebron James Damage His Reputation?
James’ response to the situation was delayed because of the media restrictions imposed by the Chinese government. When he finally spoke another firestorm broke out. James condemned Morey’s tweet to a gaggle of reporters before a Lakers preseason game at Staples Center. He said the GM “wasn’t educated on the situation at hand,” and that, “so many people could have been harmed, not only financially, but physically. Emotionally. Spiritually. So just be careful what we tweet and what we say, and what we do.”