Even before the 2019-2020 NBA season tips off on October 22-October 23 Ghana time-sparks have flown all over the place. Despite having an offseason for the ages on the back of history shaping moves for various franchises, the NBA has generated a lot of talk outside the main issue connected to the league which is basketball. For starters, there was the rap beef between former player and Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal and Portland Trailblazers Point Guard Damian Lillard.
The above mentioned statement is classified in the past tense with both men retreating from the microphone at least for now till emotions get stirred up again. Consistently, former players attack present players in the league over load management, extra protective officiating rules and big money in the league.
Listening to a few ex players, it is easy to deduce most believe the present generation is enjoying all these benefits on the back of their input in the league. While there is certainly some level of animosity between O’Neal and Lillard, it has been limited to rap lyrics and has generally been received positively by the public. I mean who doesn’t want two guys feuding over creative music lines with a member of the feud being one of the best players in the league and the other being a legend.
However, the beef between the NBA and China is no laughing matter and certainly not one that has generated any positives so far. The world’s second largest economy and the world’s biggest and best basketball league are on a collision course in the aftermath of Daryl Morey’s infamous tweet. The Houston Rockets General Manager tweeted words supporting protesters in Hong Kong’s fight against China on human rights grounds.
That didn’t sit well with mainland China who have responded by cancelling several deals with the league and Rockets team. Media events in the lead up to Brooklyn Nets preseason game against Los Angeles Lakers were cancelled likewise Gatorade League games getting axed by China state broadcaster CCTV.
Houston has been a beacon of the NBA’s global appeal and acceptance by drafting Chinese big man Yao Ming first overall in the 2002 Draft and has maintained the relationship with its Chinese fan base. Two seasons, another tall Chinese defender-Zhou Qi-was drafted by Houston and celebrates China’s New Year festival by swapping English for Mandarin language on its jerseys. Fast forwarding from Morey’s infamous seven worded tweet, the NBA has fought back with Commissioner Adam Silver defending Morey’s right to free speech.
In a situation where Americans were forced out of a preseason game involving Philadelphia Sixers and Guangzhou Loong Lions in Philadelphia for protesting against China’s treatment of protesters in Hong Kong, the league had to respond. The league’s finances will definitely suffer and its image might take a while to recover in the world’s largest NBA fan base; little wonder the NBA is already doubling down on its push into India which also has one billion people to be tapped into the basketball league cycle.
The NBA did the right thing by stepping in when China flexed its muscles maybe a little too much and China did good by letting the NBA get a sense of its immense power. Conversely, Morey is the one who has to be blamed for all this chaos and rightly should be sacked because as free as he is to speak on any subject, that freedom comes with responsibilities. Unfortunately, the veteran Manager was irresponsible with his words considering his unique position in the Rockets organization and the ongoing trade war between China and USA.
One major positive the NBA can draw from this mess is the privileged position the league has place its players in. By creating avenues for players to have a big say in their careers in contract negotiations and off court dealings, players in the league are major ambassadors and having guys like James Harden apologizing has gone a long way to calm emotions. Leagues like the NFL-National Football League- struggle to have players have this kind of influence despite being the run away most popular sports competition in the United States.
After an off season that had six of the Top 15 ranked players in the NBA leave to join other teams, story lines for the upcoming season were angling towards greatness on the court. However, all that has evaporated and Daryl Morey is to blame for that.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@YawMintYM on Twitter