The NBA will complete its trip to China in silence.
Saturday’s game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Brooklyn Nets to end this year’s NBA China Games series will be played as scheduled in Shenzhen, though there will be no news conferences for players or coaches before or after that contest.
The NBA came to that conclusion after talking with the teams and the National Basketball Players Association about what would be best for players.
“We have decided not to hold media availability for our teams for the remainder of our trip in China,” the NBA said. “They have been placed into a complicated and unprecedented situation while abroad and we believe it would be unfair to ask them to address these matters in real time.”
On Thursday, it was the Chinese that stopped NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and the teams from holding news conferences before or after the Lakers-Nets game in Shanghai. That was part of the Chinese response to the rift that started when Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted support for anti-government protesters in Hong Kong and intensified when Silver defended Morey’s right to exercise free speech.
This time, it was the NBA’s call. The game in Shenzhen has been a hot ticket since the matchup was announced, and just as was the case in Shanghai on Thursday a full arena is expected on Saturday.
“I think whoever bought the ticket needs to attend the game. After all, it is just a sport. An entertainment in fact,” Chinese fan Lao Zhang said in Shenzhen on Friday. “The bottom line is the two countries respect each other. We have the choice to like NBA players or not, meanwhile, NBA should respect China. Only by this way, NBA would have more fans and a bigger market in China.”
Under normal circumstances, the Lakers and Nets may have spoken Friday in advance of the game and then coaches and players would be made available to talk both before and after Saturday’s contest. No player or coach from either team has reacted publicly to the fallout surrounding Morey’s tweet, which was deleted quickly though continues to remain a major problem for the league and its relationship with the world’s most populous country.
The Rockets were asked repeatedly about the situation during their two-game trip to Japan earlier this week for games with the reigning NBA champion Toronto Raptors. A Rockets media relations official stopped Houston guards James Harden and Russell Westbrook from answering a question from a CNN reporter Thursday about whether they would continue to speak out about political and societal matters. That prompted an apology from the NBA, who said that decision “was inconsistent with how the NBA conducts media events.”
In Tokyo, Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said questions about the China-NBA rift are thorny to answer.
“You can’t answer questions like that because you’re wrong no matter what,” D’Antoni said. “I’m here to speak basketball, talk basketball. … Hey, I coach basketball. I’m not a diplomat.”
Golden State forward Draymond Green said the fallout over China won’t stop players from speaking out about matters they deem important. But he also said he didn’t think it was wise to discuss the nuances of this rift without fully grasping all sides of the matter.
“I don’t really understand it,” Green said. “So at this point I’m just trying to educate myself more on all of it. Even the initial tweet that started this uproar, I don’t really understand what’s going on in Hong Kong or China. It’s hard enough trying to understand politics in America for me.”
Silver spoke earlier this week and said the league would continue protecting freedom of expression for its players and employees. Morey’s tweet was criticized by Nets chairman Joe Tsai, who is in China for this week’s games and is a co-founder of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba.
“I don’t think it’s inconsistent to both be apologetic that that was the outcome of that speech but at the same time support Daryl’s right to his freedom of expression and Joe Tsai’s right to respond,” Silver said.
Associated Press reporter Zhu Pei contributed to this report.
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Tim Reynolds, The Associated Press