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Man up, NBA

| Friday, October 11, 2019

Over the past few days, a bunch of stories have developed surrounding the Hong Kong protests, specifically the response of various Americans and their attempts to appease the Chinese government. Video game company Blizzard, a subsidiary of Activision, banned a Hong Kong player and renounced his winnings after he displayed pro-Hong Kong independence sentiments on a live stream. Apple removed an app from its app store, Hkmap.live, which protesters were using in order to monitor police presence at specific locations.

However, the story which has grabbed most headlines has been about the NBA’s tricky ties to the communist nation.

Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey posted a since-deleted tweet supporting the protests, which ignited a wave of anger from the NBA’s Chinese business partners and Chinese fans. The NBA stands to lose billions if they choose to publicly criticize the Chinese government or stop playing games in China.

Too bad.

This isn’t about money. Actually, it is — for the NBA. But it shouldn’t be. NBA commissioner Adam Silver defended Morey’s rights to free expression, but he essentially apologized to China and called the situation ‘regrettable.’ When asked to define the NBA’s policy on matters such as these, Silver said in the statement:

“It is inevitable that people around the world — including from America and China — will have different viewpoints over different issues. … It is not the role of the NBA to adjudicate those differences.”

That statement is inconsistent with the NBA’s past history, and draws no distinction between matters of opinion and matters of morality. The NBA had no issue pulling the 2017 All-Star game from its initial location in Charlotte due to the controversial ‘bathroom bill.’ In that case, the NBA had no qualms about exercising a judgment between two competing viewpoints. Why is Hong Kong different?

Either the NBA sees nothing wrong in the treatment of Hong Kong as of late, or nothing wrong in the abuse of power that has long defined the Chinese government or the moral obligation they feel is overridden by their love of money and fear of losing it. I’m not trying to say the situation between China and Hong Kong isn’t complex and historically charged — it is. But I will say that China’s attitudes toward basic human freedoms are fundamentally irreconcilable with the principles held by the United States. Such a difference can’t be skirted around, either for reasons fueled by desire for sensitivity or for financial gain.

The NBA has a rich history of providing a platform to express political views, but in this instance they are failing to live up to any moral imperative. The NBA needs to man up and defend the struggle for democracy in Hong Kong. They may lose out on a lot by doing so, but they would gain a whole lot more respect in my mind.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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