This Article is Banned in China

Owner of the Houston Rockets Daryl Morey. Photo credit to The New York Times.

Owner of the Houston Rockets Daryl Morey. Photo credit to The New York Times.

Oliver Ferguson , Writer

It has been an interesting past few weeks in the world of the NBA.

The idea of a political revolution in China and professional basketball in the United States may not seem very connected, but you would be surprised. The Chinese market is extremely valuable to the NBA, potentially more than the American market. Considering there are around 1.386 billion people currently living in China, it is no surprise why any corporate entity would want to appeal to this mass demographic.

However, it’s difficult to market to the Chinese. China is governed by an incredibly strict communist government with even worse censorship policies. Most of the media is censored in effort to remove any “seditious”, anti-Chinese, or anti-communist messages. For example, the Chinese government removed references to the Cold War in the 2006 James Bond film, Casino Royale. Another example was the censorship of Martin Scorsese’s 2006 film The Departed. This was censored because some of the characters in the film alluded to China using nuclear weapons on Taiwan.

In summation, if you want to make money in China, you have to appeal to the government censors. The NBA had been doing that for several years. Last year, around 800 million Chinese citizens watched NBA programming. This year, several pre-season games were being played in China. Everything seemed fine. Until recently.

The general manager of the Houston Rockets, Daryl Morey, tweeted a photo which featured a sign that supported the current protests for democracy in Hong Kong. For those who are unaware, there are currently protests happening in Hong Kong over the oppressive communist government of China. The Chinese government has tried heavily to suppress the voices of the protesters in Hong Kong and have utilized their police force to assault and arrest them. When Morey posted this photo, it enraged the Chinese government. Adam Silver, the commissioner of the NBA, said that the Chinese government asked him to fire Morey. However, the Chinese government controlled TV station, CCTV, denied this and said, “Silver … is using so-called ‘freedom of speech’ to cover for Morey, who voiced support for violent elements in Hong Kong.”

The NBA-China issue also sparked conversation among some NBA stars. All-star shooting guard for the Rockets, James Harden, said, in regards to the Daryl Morey issue, “We apologize. You know, we love China. We love playing there.” 3x NBA Finals MVP and forward for the Los Angeles Lakers, LeBron James, called Morey’s post, “misinformed,” and went on to say, “I think people need to understand what a tweet or statement can do to others. And I believe nobody stopped and considered what would happen. Could have waited a week to send it.” James is very dependent on the Chinese market for his business success.

The issue with the NBA has also sparked questions about other corporations cooperation with the Chinese government. The Walt Disney Company has cut parts of films in order to appease Chinese censors, Apple has removed the Taiwanese flag from its list of emojis, and major video game developer Activision Blizzard has condemned the protests in Hong Kong. Losing the Chinese demographic would be detrimental to these businesses.

Throughout this entire scenario, it has raised a very interesting question. What is more important? Companies maximizing their profits by appeasing the oppressive Chinese government or supporting the protesters of Hong Kong in their quest for freedom and democracy in China? All multinational corporations will be forced to answer this question in this current political and financial climate.