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Acton Commentary

‘Woke’ NBA kowtows to Chinese communists

The National Basketball Association, a league that has in the past urged its players to speak out on issues of social justice, has issued what can only be described as a craven and cowardly statement distancing itself from the general manager of the Houston Rockets Daryl Morey’s since deleted tweet expressing solidarity with protestors in Hong Kong. The Chinese translation of the statement was even more shameful:

The Chinese-language statement, issued Monday, said that the league is “extremely disappointed” by the Houston Rockets general manager’s “inappropriate” tweet, which “severely hurt the feelings of Chinese fans.”

Morey’s original tweet was denounced by the Houston Rocket’s owner Tilman Fertitta, the communist regime in China, the Chinese Basketball Association (Headed by former Houston Rocket Center Yao Ming), and several Chinese firms which sponsor the Rockets. The Ringer reported,

As a consequence, league sources told The Ringer that Rockets ownership has debated Morey’s employment status and whether to replace him.

Morey deleted his original tweet and on October 6thtweeted the following struggle session:

1/ I did not intend my tweet to cause any offense to the Rockets fans and friends of mine in China. I was merely voicing one thought, based on one interpretation, of one complicated event.

2/ I have had a lot of opportunity since that tweet to hear and consider other perspectives. I have always appreciated the significant support our Chinese fans and sponsors have provided and I would hope that those who are upset will know that offending or misunderstanding them was not my intention. My tweets are my own and in no way represent the Rockets or the NBA.

Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta and the NBA itself demonstrate their fundamental ethical bankruptcy by using their power and privilege to shield a totalitarian regime

Morey is perhaps the smartest and certainly the most innovative general manager in the history of the NBA. The Houston Rockets are the second most popular team in China. His original tweet which read, “Fight for Freedom Stand with Hong Kong,” was both as laudable and courageous as his struggle session is both vile and simpering. The Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta and the NBA itself demonstrate their fundamental ethical bankruptcy by using their power and privilege to shield a totalitarian regime from even indirect criticism in the form of a tweet in solidarity with a courageous protest movement whose only crime is standing up for human rights and the rule of law.

Business and the pursuit of profits are not evil but in order for them to contribute to the common good and genuine human flourishing they must be pursued within a moral and religious framework. More than 50 years ago the economist Wilhelm Röpke wrote this prescient warning to businessmen seeking profits in the then preeminent communist power, the Soviet Union:

Businessmen should really regard it as an insult to their intelligence when Moscow tries to catch them with the bait of profit. They should remember Lenin’s statement that when it was time to hang the world’s capitalists, they would trip over each other in their eagerness to sell the Communists the necessary ropes. Unless they are completely blinded by their short-term interests, Western businessmen should not find it so very difficult to see through Moscow’s dishonest game. They should realize that this is another case of asymmetry in the market, one to be stressed especially by the market’s friends.

The NBA is now reaping the whirlwind of its failure to heed this warning in the form of biting criticism from both Republicans and Democrats. It has now become transparent that the “woke capitalism” of the NBA was little more than marketing by other means. It has been frequently said that today’s NBA is one of unprecedented player empowerment (Paradoxically also player unhappiness) yet when Houston Rocket’s star James Harden pleads, “We apologize. You know, we love China. We love playing there … ,” it looks like anything but that.

On Tuesday, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said he won’t censor players or team owners over statements about China, that the league is motivated by more than money, and that freedom of expression must be protected. But the behavior of the NBA itself, the words of NBA owners, the struggle session of the league’s most talented GM, and the apology of one of its brightest stars all indicate that the party line is so firmly established that overt censorship may not even be necessary.

Tomorrow will be the first of two preseason games dubbed the “NBA China Games 2019.” The Los Angeles Lakers and the Brooklyn Nets will play in Shanghai on Thursday and then again in Shenzhen on Saturday. Both teams have big stars and large domestic and international followings.

LeBron James, considered by many to be the greatest to have ever played the game, will play. James has been as outspoken on many issues and insists that he is more than an athlete. When, in the wake of critical comments James made about President Trump, Fox News Host Laura Ingraham told him to, “Shut up and dribble,” he turned the insult into a documentary series. The series emphasized the importance of athletes in driving social change. I hope LeBron James will use his platform in China tomorrow to be more than an athlete, that he will stand up for Hong Kong even if it means standing up against the NBA. I hope LeBron James won’t just shut up and dribble.

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Daniel J. Hugger is librarian and research associate at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He studied history at Hillsdale College and earned a State of Michigan teaching certificate at Calvin College, where he completed a thesis on the role of the imagination in the writings of St. Ignatius of Loyola. For his work in history at Calvin he was nominated for a Lilly Fellowship. He has taught history, English, and economics at public schools in the Grand Rapids area and has lectured on Lord Acton.