Tuesday, October 15, 2019


"The league has certainly not covered itself in glory in its handling of the blowback over the Morey tweet and, in the process, reminded fans across the U.S. that the NBA is, at its core, still a profit-seeking international organization serving multiple constituencies of which the most important one is money."
Elliot Hannon. LeBron James Sounds Like Chinese Propaganda in Critique of “Misinformed” Pro-Democracy Tweet
Do people really need to be "reminded" that the National Basketball Association is a for-profit enterprise? Sure, one may presume that there is some risk that people may believe that the NBA is, like the National Football League used to be, an unincorporated nonprofit association under section 501(c)(6) of the tax code, but it seems unlikely that members of the public are unaware of the fact that the NBA is principally intended to make money for itself and the various teams that constitute it.

And making money is a different mission that promoting the values or social/governmental structures that we in the United States often claim to prize. Many nations (if not all of them) want to have their butts kissed by foreign entities that do business within their borders. Now, the exact form that this brown-nosing may take can vary from country to country, but it's not an uncommon requirement. In China's case, part of the cost of doing business is never publicly siding with those that the government has concluded are engaged in wrong thought or wrong action.

And here's the thing about kissing butts; generally speaking, one is not supposed to ever let on that the person or organization whose butt is being kissed has demanded said kissing. Since demanding that one's butt be kissed is considered arrogant at the very least, a certain level of plausible deniability must be maintained. Hence LeBron James taking Daryl Morey to task for the risk of harming people "not only financially but physically, emotionally, spiritually," rather than coming out and saying "Hey man, you know the Chinese government becomes pissed off whenever someone appears to side against it." In the end, it's the same thing, but one appeals less overtly to the idea that a nation of more than a billion people can't handle the fact that there are people in the world who feel that their government is wonky, and that those of them who would rather have a different system may have a point. Of course, the United States has it's share of thin-skinned individuals, too. But the United States isn't as good at moving in lockstep as some other nations.

When dealing with someone who can effectively stop one from obtaining what they want, that party sets the rules of engagement. And what the NBA wants is as much of the disposable income of the Chinese middle and upper classes as they can manage to get away with. The United States is a mature market at this point, and basketball isn't nearly as popular in most of the rest of the world. And so they're looking to China for sales and profits (and shareholder value). The ability of the Chinese Communist Party to conflate itself, and the government it leads, with the Chinese people as a whole complicates matters, as the government is then able to influence public opinion in a way that the government of the United States is generally unable to. Given that the government of China is able to use its influence to make perceived criticism of the government into disrespect of the people of China, foreign companies need to tread carefully, since they understand that their bottom lines need China more than China needs them.

None of this is news. People in the United States may be irritated that profit-oriented corporations and other businesses aren't more in the business if being ambassadors for "Western Values," but I doubt that they're unaware of the facts on the ground, or the business pressures that those facts dictate. They don't need random public-relations breakdowns to remind them of that.

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