The National Basketball Association has come a long ways from the days when they were an all-American sport. Instead of welcoming the free speech rights cherished by Americans, the NBA makes it a priority to censor anyone standing up for democracy in Hong Kong. Even a CNN reporter was muzzled when she just tried to ask two basketball players how they felt about the lack of free speech in the NBA.
CNN journalist Christina Macfarlane prefaced her question by “The NBA has always been a league that prides itself on its players and its coaches being able to speak out openly about political and societal affairs.” However, as soon as Macfarlane started to ask whether this was still true, an NBA official immediately cut her off and insisted on taking her microphone away.
The sports shoe manufacturing company Nike is behind this censorship, but almost no one will admit it. LeBron James, who has an estimated $1 billion contract with Nike, said a Houston Rockets executive “wasn’t educated” when he tweeted out in support of democracy in Hong Kong. LeBron’s comment is baffling until you realize it echoes the view of his lucrative sponsor Nike.
NBA teams are now playing exhibition games in China, but players are prohibited by the NBA from speaking to the press at any time during the tour. Sports is supposed to bring nations together, but it looks like the NBA is only interested in inflaming the tensions. Fifty years ago, “ping-pong diplomacy” was supposed to soften the communist dictators who have run mainland China since their violent revolution. After a half-century of no progress, now we have “basketball diplomacy” pushed with the same false hope.
Diplomacy is only a charade if one side is not allowed to speak up for its values. With the huge income of the NBA players, owners, and league executives, you’d think they could at least speak their mind a bit. Instead, the NBA has submitted themselves to the almighty Chinese yuan. If the National Basketball Association wants to win back the fans that have been leaving in droves, they should once again embrace the American principle of free speech for players and owners.