The NBA’s handling of a tweet involving Hong Kong showed that the league is willing to compromise its principles to make money.
Given the tenor of the times, one hardly knows where and when the next full-blown controversy will appear.
For example, 10 days ago, a resident of Texas (Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey) tweeted out support for Hong Kong residents who are fighting to retain the freedom that the Chinese government is trying to take away from them.
“Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong,” stated the tweet that expressed a sentiment that 99.9 percent of Americans share.
After all, this is the land of the free, right?
It is, except when it isn’t, and it isn’t when it interferes with a little business.
What followed was a distasteful example of authoritarian rule (China), gutless business operators (the NBA) and the degree to which one side will compromise the most basic of principles to protect profits.
Profit, of course, is why businesses exist. Without them, they go bust. But few businesses are more self-congratulating about their enlightened approach to everything than the NBA. To see league representatives react in horror to the expression of support for “freedom” to appease the Chinese government and then, in response to public condemnation, insist it will always favor free expression is mind bending.
But here’s the ugly little secret about corporate America — it’s always about the money.
That’s why Apple, at the behest of the Chinese government, recently withdrew an app — HK Map Live — from the App Store because Hong Kong protesters were relying on it to track police activity on the streets and avoid trouble spots. Apple reinstated the app after its action became known and was roundly condemned.
But, really, what Apple and the NBA did was business as usual when dealing with oppressor governments.
Despite all the talk about China adopting capitalism to build wealth, it’s still a ruthless and brutal communist dictatorship. Pushed far enough by freedom seekers, they’ll do in Hong Kong what they did in Tiananmen Square, because from the viewpoint of that country’s leadership, one thing that can’t be tolerated is a free people.
That is, after all, what governments like that do to their people, and anyone who thinks differently simply is not conversant with the facts.
So it was perfectly natural for the Chinese government to throw a tantrum over what would have been a little-noted tweet. Unfortunately, it also was perfectly natural for NBA officials to appease the Chinese and then pretend to reverse themselves to appease critics in the United States.
Those who follow the NBA know that it is hugely popular in China and that league officials realize there is a ton of money to be made by — forgive the pun — playing ball with the Chinese.
Defenders of the NBA will, of course, argue that the league isn’t a political organization and contend that sticking up for freedom in Hong Kong will make no difference in the end about how the issue is resolved. So why bother with the politics when there’s money to be made?
That was the league’s view until it became too public. It’s still the league’s view, but only in private.
That’s why the NBA cut off news media access to players in exhibition games in China.
That’s why the NBA can’t get this issue behind it fast enough. But, remember, the next time league officials brag publicly about their commitment to value and principals, their only real commitment is to the bottom line.