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Money makes the world go around

the world go around

the world go around!

Money makes the world go around

Of that we both are sure!

Pttthh! on being poor!

--Joel Grey and Liza Minnelli

Here we are in October, with American baseball playoffs in full swing, emphasis on swing, with football piped in from all media, emphasis on football. There are wars and rumors of wars in the Middle East again, an impeachment proceeding in Washington D.C. again, and Hillary Clinton making noises about running for president again. There is so much in the news: The economy. Upcoming holidays. The fair. Pride and prejudices. Crime and punishments. And what's everybody blethering about?

Professional basketball.

It's a toss-up whether this whole thing was a PR mess from the beginning, or a brilliant stroke to get NBA hoops into the news in October. Sorta like the New Coke fiasco/master plan. However, we're leaning toward mess.

It all started with somebody you never heard of: A man named Daryl Morey. Apparently, he is the general manager of the Houston Rockets. And if you can name another general manager of an NBA team, you're too far gone into the Sports section, and you're not likely reading this.

Mr. Morey probably cost the NBA at least millions of dollars when he tweeted something over the weekend that wasn't 100 percent in line with Communist China's thinking, if you can call ChiCom utterances "thinking." The GM posted this on Twitter, which, it should be noted, couldn't be seen on mainland China because Twitter isn't allowed there:

"Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong."

That was it. Seven words. And, as far as American political opinion goes, pretty innocuous words at that. And, not to belabor the point, but seven words that couldn't be seen in China.

But the ChiComs had what is referred to in exalted diplomatic terms as a "hissy."

The Chinese Basketball Association suspended all cooperation with the Houston Rockets, which was a big deal. Because the Rockets have sorta been China's team since the south Texas team drafted Chinese superstar Yao Ming back in 2002.

After that, the news came fast:

FLASH! Authorities in Red China started canceling exhibition games. FLASH! Chinese TV said it would stop showing Rockets' preseason games. FLASH! Chinese "business partners" decided they knew what was good for them, and suspended business with the NBA.

The Rockets' owner bravely Tweeted this in response: "Listen ... @dmorey does NOT speak for the @HoustonRockets. Our presence [this week] in Tokyo is all about the promotion of the @NBA internationally and we are NOT a political organization."

Tweeted like a man who knows 600 million Chinese viewers tuned into NBA games last year.

The NBA, for its part, also knows what a buck is. Or a yuan. It initially distanced itself from Mr. Morey, too, saying it regretted offending friends and fans in China: "We have great respect for the history and culture of China and hope that sports and the NBA can be used as a unifying force to bridge cultural divides and bring people together."

Uh-huh.

That in itself caused a backlash on these shores. After some questioned whether the NBA was more interested in the bottom line than human rights, the NBA put out yet another statement, saying it couldn't operate by regulating what its players and managers say.

Speaking of free speech, state media in China weighed in. Which is always fun. Here's what the ChiCom sports authorities had to say about the matter:

"We express our strong dissatisfaction and opposition to [the NBA's] stated support of Morey's right to free speech. We believe any remarks that challenge national sovereignty and social stability do not belong to the category of free speech. We will also immediately examine all other cooperation and exchanges with the NBA."

Any remarks that challenge national sovereignty and social stability aren't free speech. Spoken like a true authoritarian apparatchik. It reminds us of the old story of the communist who was trying so hard to explain to a friend from the West why elections in his home country were actually free, as compared to the decadent western-style votes: How can your elections truly be free, he explained, if the wrong side wins?

The last we heard, the ChiComs had threatened the NBA with all kinds of things, and that's saying something. If dispatches are correct, China accounts for a significant amount of eyeballs for the NBA. (10 percent? 20 percent? Figures are unreliable from the Middle Kingdom.) So when the NBA finally got its feet under it, and backed the American's right to expression, it may have cost itself millions. A small price to pay, you'd think, for the ability to sleep o' night.

Unlike the NFL, the NBA has prided itself on being a players' outfit, and one with a conscience. The best explanation we've heard came from Jerry Brewer of The Washington Post, who said that the Association took so long to get it right "partly because it's such a bizarre issue from an American perspective. We're free to run our mouths about anything, and this freedom of speech has been exercised to the fullest in recent years." So when somebody, like henchmen in Beijing, starts questioning comments, it may take an American NBA executive a few days to understand what's the big deal.

We can buy that. The question that will remain in the coming weeks: Will Red China continue to buy the NBA?

And if not, will the NBA cower again?

Editorial on 10/11/2019

Print Headline: China's no-look pass

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