The NBA’s mess with China, in the wake of Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s tweet about Hong Kong, has generated unusually similar reactions from pretty much all corners. Like, seriously, on what other issue could you imagine Jacobin, The Washington Post and Tucker Carlson producing matching content?
It’s big deal in sports this week, but a business stumbling over itself in pursuit of every possible dollar and yuan is hardly groundbreaking stuff. And though it seems sort of novel for the NBA, which generally has had a better handle on acting in a seemingly progressive fashion than other leagues in part because its audience demand it, it is still the same league that implemented a widely-panned-as-racist dress code in 2005, which, for perspective, was right as LeBron James was about to begin his third pro season.
Maybe the fact that Morey remains employed shows that the NBA actually is more progressive than some of its counterparts, but really it doesn’t matter. The lesson is that every decision made at a league level, at a team level, at every level, is in pursuit of the bottom line.
The NBA wants to do whatever it can to be in the Chinese market because if it can generate an average of a dollar per person out of that country, that’s more than a billion dollars. If Major League Baseball really has de-juiced the baseballs for the playoffs, it’s probably because they’d like a little less scoring in the playoffs to shorten the games and boost their television partners. If the NFL is going to keep having Thursday night games, it’s because they can get those games on television and make loads more money doing so.
The idea that the NBA is betraying its “wokeness” is ludicrous because the NBA has never been anything but a sports league. If people wanted to apply labels to it, and as a result develop more positive opinions of the NBA, that would always be just fine with the NBA, just as it’s generally good for Nike to have a total goober like Ted Cruz get all huffy at something they did and swear off Nike forever.
Cruz also railed against the NBA this week, as did everybody else, because the NBA completely stepped in it with its handling of the situation. But the question is, does anyone in American business really want to stand up to China over its human rights record, because, uh, a basketball league bending over backward to appease an authoritarian regime is kind of the least of America’s worries in that relationship right now.