Sergi Xaudiera

NBA the cost of doing business in and with China

Originally published 11 October 2019 by Sergi Xaudiera

With no other pretention to put together some quotes. A lot have been written these days, that can drawn a timeline of the events.

Hong Kong, China, NBA & Apple. This story of fourth started with a tweet by Daryl Morey, GM of Houston Rockets (NBA).

The episode began Friday night, when Daryl Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets, posted an image on Twitter that included a slogan commonly chanted during Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests: “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong.” He quickly deleted the tweet, but the damage was done.

Chinese fans, who see the Hong Kong protesters portrayed as violent rioters in the state-run news media and largely regard them as such, were furious. Sponsors paused their deals with the Rockets, and the country’s main broadcaster said it would remove the team’s games from its schedule.

The league issued an apology for Mr. Morey’s comments Sunday night. That inflamed fans back home, where the protesters are generally seen as pro-democracy fighters battling a repressive government. Democratic and Republican politicians found agreement in calling the league gutless, accusing it of prioritizing money over human rights.

Brookly Nets (NBA) owner Jose Tasi, posted a response on his personal Facebook page. He as an owner it’s also on NBA board.

The NBA is a fan-first league. When hundreds of millions of fans are furious over an issue, the league, and anyone associated with the NBA, will have to pay attention. As a Governor of one of the 30 NBA teams, and a Chinese having spent a good part of my professional life in China, I need to speak up.

What is the problem with people freely expressing their opinion? This freedom is an inherent American value and the NBA has been very progressive in allowing players and other constituents a platform to speak out on issues.

The problem is, there are certain topics that are third-rail issues in certain countries, societies and communities.

Then a Sixers (NBA) fan was ejected from exhibition game in Philadelphia (USA) after supporting Hong Kong.

Seeking to bring attention to the issue, Wachs and a companion purchased seats behind the bench of the Chinese team and wore face masks — which have been banned at ongoing protests in Hong Kong. They held up a pair of signs. One read, “Free Hong Kong” and the other, “Free HK.”

“We sat in our seats silently and just held up the signs,” he said. About five minutes into the game, Wachs said, security confiscated the “Free Hong Kong” sign and asked what the second sign meant.

“And I said HK stood for [former Phillies announcer] Harry Kalas,” Wachs said.

“He said, ‘Isn’t Harry Kalas dead?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, free Harry Kalas.’ And he said, ‘Why would you free Harry Kalas?’ And I said, ‘Hey, I just wanna free Harry Kalas.’ And he said, ‘OK.’”

About ten minutes later, Wachs recalled, security returned to take the “Free HK” poster.

Finnaly after three days, China realised what he was doing, deteriorating its internationally image, and bringing more support to Hong Kong protesters.

After three days of fanning nationalistic outrage, the Chinese government abruptly moved on Thursday to tamp down public anger at the N.B.A. as concerns spread in Beijing that the rhetoric was damaging China’s interests and image around the world.

The Communist Party indeed doesn’t hesitate to use state power to tell the Chinese people how they should think. But the displays of patriotism, especially from young people, also show that the party’s propaganda machine has mastered the power of symbol and symbolism in the mass media and social media era…While imposing tight censorship, the Communist Party has also learned to lean on the most popular artists and the most experienced internet companies to help it instill Chinese with patriotic zeal. It’s propaganda for the Instagram age, if Instagram were allowed in China.

And also affecting economic issues.

Now, the Chinese government appears to be reassessing its campaign against the N.B.A. and dialing down the clamor. The government is already in a bruising trade war with the United States, and a backlash against China could hurt its image in the sporting world ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics near Beijing. The dispute with the N.B.A. was also quickly politicizing an audience of sports fans who would not normally focus on issues like the protests in Hong Kong.

Ambigous NBA public statement.

The N.B.A. faces an existential problem. For the better part of a decade, the league’s leading players and coaches have spoken out, often eloquently, on issues like police brutality, gay rights, guns and the president of the United States. They even toppled the retrograde racist owner of the Los Angeles Clippers.

The N.B.A.’s challenge, its headache, comes encoded in this dynamic. Social justice marketing is grand for the hoop audience in the United States but looks far less attractive to an authoritarian power in Beijing.

“This is the vulnerability for the N.B.A.,” said Matheson, the sports economist. “Social justice and free speech does not sell well in China.”

This is the point, after years of Chine investing in western business and organizations, they have the own part of the biggest companies, but they can act like home outside world. On the other hand, western companies realised the price of doing business in such a different market, with such different values. The ultra-know and attributed (not sure it was ever a true story) to Michael Jordan can summarise this idea “Republicans Buy Sneakers, Too”.

At same time Apple removed hkmap.live from app store, an app that geo-point riots on map, a way to avoid riots, in consequece, also tracking police activity. ç

A day earlier, People’s Daily, the flagship newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, published an editorial that accused Apple of aiding “rioters” in Hong Kong. “Letting poisonous software have its way is a betrayal of the Chinese people’s feelings,” said the article, which was written under a pseudonym, “Calming the Waves.”

“The app displays police locations and we have verified with the Hong Kong Cybersecurity and Technology Crime Bureau that the app has been used to target and ambush police, threaten public safety, and criminals have used it to victimize residents in areas where they know there is no law enforcement,” Apple said in a statement late Wednesday. “This app violates our guidelines and local laws.”

★ Daniel Victor, The New York Times

★ Joe Tsai, personal Facebook page

★ Avi Wolfman-Arent, WHYY

★ Keith Bradsher and Javier C. Hernández, The New York Times

★ Michael Powell, The New York Times

★ Jack Nicas, The New York Times