NBA basketball returns to Chinese television after a long absence

China Central Television, China’s state-run television network, has begun airing NBA games again, indicating that the rift between the league and the authoritarian government that has persisted since 2019 seems to be coming to an end. .

The news was first reported by the Global Times, a Chinese state-run media outlet, and was confirmed by an NBA spokesman.

The first game on state television this year, according to the Global Times, was the Tuesday night game between the Los Angeles Clippers and the Utah Jazz. According to the Global Times, the broadcast was the start of a full NBA return to the airwaves of China. The league has been almost completely off the air on Chinese state television since 2019, except for a lone final game in 2020. The games have been broadcast on Tencent, a China-based digital streaming platform .

“NBA games have been broadcast continuously in China for nearly 35 years, including this season on a number of other services,” NBA spokesman Mike Bass said in a statement Thursday. “We believe that broadcasting games to our fans in China and more than 200 other countries and territories is consistent with our mission to inspire and connect people everywhere through the game of basketball.”

The league said it was reported the day the broadcast match was played.

The dispute between China and the NBA began in the fall of 2019, when Daryl Morey, then a Houston Rockets executive, shared an image of support for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. He posted it just as the Los Angeles Lakers and Nets were preparing to play a preseason game in China. Posting on social media angered the Chinese government, causing the games to be removed from the air and Chinese companies to withdraw the sponsorships from the league.

The league received overwhelming criticism at home from politicians across the ideological spectrum over what some saw as its deference to China. Morey later issued a statement saying he had no intention of causing the crime and was also reprimanded by Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta. The league issued a statement saying it was “unfortunate” that Morey’s post had offended many of the NBA’s “friends and fans” in China. A Chinese translation of the NBA statement suggested that the league was apologizing to the Chinese government, further fueling national criticism that the NBA’s response was not strong enough to stay behind Morey.

“We have always supported and will continue to support NBA family members who express their views on social and political issues,” Bass said in a statement Thursday.

Since Morey’s tenure, the NBA has often become a target of criticism, especially from elected Republicans who have attacked the league’s will to make money with a repressive government accused of a litany of human rights violations.

It wasn’t just Morey’s response that invited detractors. In 2020, ESPN reported that there was rampant child abuse at basketball academies at Chinese government-run facilities co-sponsored by NBA League spokesman A recently said the league was no longer affiliated with those academies.

Broadcasting NBA games on Chinese television opens up a revenue stream of hundreds of millions of dollars a year for the league. The league’s relationship with China has come under scrutiny in recent months, as Enes Kanter Freedom, a recent NBA center with the Boston Celtics, criticized the Chinese government and the league for its business interests. country. Freedom was traded by the Celtics to the Rockets, who cut him off in February.

Kristen Looney, an assistant professor of Chinese politics at Georgetown, said in an interview that the Chinese government’s decision may be the result of insufficient time or greater geopolitical calculation.

“It could mean it’s been long enough for things to blow up,” Looney said. “From a macro perspective, it could mean that China is trying to point out that it still wants to maintain good economic relations with the United States despite differences of opinion on the Russia-Ukraine crisis. China may be afraid that its its close relationship with Russia has a dominant effect on its economic relations with the United States and the rest of the Western world alongside Ukraine. “

The NBA has targeted China, and its population of 1.4 billion, for about half a century. China now has more fans in the league than the United States, a country of 330 million. Prior to the pandemic, major NBA stars regularly traveled the country between seasons to promote sneakers. The NBA has played dozens of games since 2004.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has firmly maintained the NBA’s position on China, despite criticism. In a recent interview with The New York Times, Silver said he believed the league was being unfairly targeted for criticism given how many companies in the United States do business with China.

“Virtually every American uses products made in China,” Silver said. “And in many cases, they are the products we trust the most. Our computers, our phones, our clothes. Our shoes, our children’s toys. So the question is, why is the NBA the only company that should now boycott China?

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