While the NBA remains popular in China, its presence there is seemingly no longer benefitting the communist nation, and could therefore soon be done away with entirely, wrote Ethan Strauss in his excellent newsletter, House of Strauss.
For starters, the NBA features zero players from China. The league has also come under fire from the Chinese government after a tweet from then-Rockets GM Daryl Morey supporting Hong Kong in 2019, and more recently, Celtics center Enes Kanter calling out China on human right violations.
“It would be one thing if the NBA featured a couple Yao (Ming)-level stars, prestigious representatives that China would be hesitant to pull the plug on. But for a league composed of a bunch of players from the U.S. plus a smattering of other nations? How does this fit into China’s top-down project for the future?” Strauss wrote.
“And this is why I perceive the dynamic to be a dead letter, absent some massive reversal in Chinese basketball fortunes. China doesn’t have a tremendous reason to keep the NBA around, beyond its chilling effect on China criticism in a visible quarter.”
It’s been said that no American sports league has profited as greatly off its business relationship with China as the modern-day NBA. But as Strauss noted, a recent Gallup poll indicated that Gallup says that 79% of Americans have a negative opinion of China.
That puts the NBA in danger of losing viewers and perhaps sponsors from both sides of the political aisle.
“Not only does this represent a massive chasm between public and business leader opinion, but it’s notable just as a rare topic of agreement in a nation that disagrees about everything,” Strauss wrote.
“When Adam Silver broadcasts obsequious compliments in China’s direction, he’s on the wrong side of perhaps the only major topic that Republican and Democrat voters agree on.”
China has pulled Celtics games from government-run CCTV following the repeated comments from Kanter.
“Brutal dictator of China, Xi Jinping, I have a message for you and your henchman,” Kanter said in a video. “I will say again, again, and again, loud and clear — I hope you hear me: free Tibet, free Tibet, free Tibet.”
NBA reporters have not followed up with Kanter as they do on most such topics, perhaps at the league’s insistence.
Strauss ultimately predicted that the NBA’s relationship with China will soon end, if not by the NBA, then by China itself.