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Chinese NBA fans

Politics of China: NBA To Lose Hundreds of Millions

Gettyimages | STR
By Rhode InStyle

Hugely popular in China, basketball has over 300 million people playing the game and the NBA also has around 800 million fans supporting millions of dollars of business. The NBA has had a presence in China since 1992 when it opened its first office in Hong Kong and NBA China launched in 2008, which conducts the league's business in the country, and is now worth more than $4bn, according to Forbes.

The Houston Rockets have had a huge following in China since it signed Chinese player and eight-time NBA All-Star Yao Ming in 2002. Mr Yao now heads the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) after retiring from the league.

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Daryl Morey
Gettyimages | Allen Berezovsky

In October 2019, Daryl Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets, shared an image on Twitter that supported the pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. The backlash was immediate, as Chinese sponsors began cutting ties with the league and China Central Television, the state-run television broadcaster, refused to air any more games. Morey's tweet captioned "Fight For Freedom. Stand With Hong Kong", prompted a furious backlash in China with calls from the Chinese government for his sacking but NBA Commissioner Adam Silver defended his right to express his opinion.

NBA press conference
Gettyimages | Takashi Aoyama

"We were being asked to fire him by the Chinese government, by the parties we dealt with, government and business," Silver said. "We said there's no chance that's happening. There's no chance we'll even discipline him." "The values of the NBA - the American values, we are an American business - travel with us wherever we go. And one of those values is free expression."

Chinese officials and media have reacted furiously to foreign expressions of support for the protesters and accused the West of interfering in Chinese affairs.

Gettyimages | VCG

In response to Mr Morey's tweet, state-run broadcaster CCTV and Tencent Holdings, which streams NBA games in China, said they would stop broadcasting Rockets matches with the CBA suspending co-operation with the team, as did Chinese sportswear brand Li-Ning and the club's sponsor in China, Shanghai Pudong Development Bank.

The league’s many streams of revenue include broadcasting rights, merchandise sales and admissions. This China fallout has seen the league lower its salary cap projections for next season. The cap is a system which sets the limits for team expenditure on players is determined by the amount of money the N.B.A. takes in year to year.

Dollars inside a bottle
Gettyimages | artisteer

The full magnitude of the loss won’t be known until after the playoffs.

“We were taken off the air in China for a period of time, and it caused our many business partners in China to feel it was, therefore, inappropriate to have ongoing relationships with us,” Silver said. “But I don’t have any sense that there’s any permanent damage to our business there, and as I’ve said before, we accept the consequences of our system and our values. It’s not a position any business wants to be in, but those are the results.”

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