The NBA was completely unaware of its international brand awareness until the Summer Olympics in 1992 when the American “Dream Team” traveled to Barcelona, Spain.
Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley were amongst the players the most mobbed during that game. Since then, the NBA made international television deals with many markets, including China, which may be the biggest outside of the United States.
And now all of that could be compromised due to a single tweet from Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey.
The popularity of America’s NBA league may have started with the 1992 Summer Olympics “Dream Team” but since then it has grown exponentially since then. In terms of the most popular sports in the world; it goes soccer, cricket and then basketball comes in at number 3. Yes, cricket is the second most popular sport in the world.
Some of the algorithm statistics to base this off of are global fan base and audience, viewership on television, television rights deals, popularity on the Internet, social media popularity, number of professional leagues across the world, etc.
But it was Yao Ming who brought all of China’s attention to the NBA when the Houston Rockets selected him as the number one overall pick in 2002. Since then, China’s viewership of the American league has exploded.
To give you an idea of how popular basketball is in China, there were more people who tuned in to Kobe Bryant’s last game when he put up 60 points than there were tuning in stateside.
All of that might come to a screeching halt because Rockets GM Daryl Morey tweeted his pro-Democracy support for the protesters in Hong Kong, which China quickly condemned and plans to excommunicate the entire organization – and possibly the whole NBA – from television and the Internet. They have literally scrubbed the Rockets from the Chinese Internet since the tweet.
Protests began in Hong Kong in June over proposed legislation that would allow for extradition from Hong Kong to the mainland – a policy that could have impacted the region’s relative autonomy. The bill was withdrawn in September, but the often-violent riots have continued since because these protesters want American-like Democracy.
Here’s where everything gets complicated though.
While one of the greatest foundations for America is unquestionably our Free Speech, the NBA and the Rockets organization quickly condemned, while somewhat ironically supporting our First Amendment, in the same breath.
The NBA on Sunday issued a statement acknowledging that Morey’s statement had “deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China, which is regrettable.”
Morey responded to the outrage from China by saying, “I did not intend my tweet to cause any offense to Rockets fans and friends of mine in China. I was merely voicing one thought, based on one interpretation, of one complicated event. I have had a lot of opportunity since that tweet to hear and consider other perspectives. I have always appreciated the significant support our Chinese fans and sponsors have provided and I would hope that those who are upset will know that offending or misunderstanding them was not my intention. My tweets are my own and in no way represent the Rockets or the NBA.”
This has become a very complex issue for the NBA because on one hand we have to stand up for our inherent rights detailed in the U.S. Constitution but on the other hand there is billions at stake.
It’s like walking a tightrope the width of a strand of floss. It’s delicate.
However, it’s hard not to recognize the NBA’s hypocrisy like for instance how the league pulled the All-star game out of North Carolina with the bathroom bill was passed, which prevented transgender people from choosing their bathrooms.
What’s the difference here?
It’s money. The NBA loses zero money by changing cities for an All-star game. They lose billions in China.