NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in an interview on Tuesday that he hopes to find “mutual respect” with China, months after the basketball league’s games were pulled from Chinese broadcasters after Daryl Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets, expressed support for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests.
In the interview with Time, Silver said NBA games had returned to Chinese distribution platforms after an ongoing dialogue, and the association was “just going to keep at it.”
“We’ve had a long history in China,” Silver said. “And certainly this is a bump in the road in our relations ... We come to China with a certain set of core American values and principles. And I understand also they have a different form of government. And they have a different view of how things have been done, how things should be done. And hopefully, we can find mutual respect for each other.”
The interview was primarily focused on the challenges behind the tentative July restart of the 2019-2020 NBA season, which went on hiatus in March due to the COVID-19 outbreak. It was released on the same day as the passing of Hong Kong’s national security law, unprecedented legislation from China’s central government that cracks down on freedom of speech within the semi-autonomous city.
A letter was also sent to Silver on Tuesday by Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn from Tennessee, a vocal critic of China who claims that the country “sent” the United States COVID-19. In the document, Blackburn expressed “concern that the league has turned a blind eye to human rights abuses committed abroad,” referencing events in Hong Kong as well as China’s detention of Uighur Muslims — the subject of a recent report revealing that Uighur women were forcibly sterilized or given mandatory birth control as a means of population suppression.
“The actions of the NBA and some players have created an appearance that your league prioritizes profit over principle,” Blackburn wrote in the letter, urging Silver to reconsider its connections with China.
Commentators, including a number of conservative voices, echoed Blackburn’s criticisms of Silver after the commissioner’s Time interview was released.
The NBA’s problems with China began in October 2019, after Morey tweeted support for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement. Morey later deleted the tweet and issued an apology; the NBA initially called his move “regrettable.” After receiving criticism for not defending Morey, Silver clarified the NBA’s position in a press release, writing that “it [was] inevitable that people around the world — including from America and China — will have different viewpoints over different issues,” and the league ”[would] not put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees and team owners say or will not say.”
China reacted swiftly, suspending NBA games on television and livestreaming platforms in a business loss of “hundreds of millions of dollars,” according to statements that Silver made in February.
“But I don’t have any sense that there’s any permanent damage to our business there, and as I’ve said before, we accept the consequences of our system and our values,” Silver said at the time. “It’s not a position any business wants to be in, but those are the results.”