Basketball backlash: China, Hong Kong, business and the NBA
Friday, October 18, 2019
Who could have imagined the shake-up ahead when Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted support for Hong Kong street protests against the Chinese government’s power in the former British colony on Oct. 4?
We know now. Chinese firms ended NBA sponsorships and cancelled the airing of televised preseason games, including ones played inside the country between the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets.
Chinese basketball fans in the hundreds of millions mean growth for the NBA. Its investors and players count on the financial benefits of that trend.
Still, many questions linger. For example, how does the right of Hong Kong residents to take to the streets in protest dovetail with the NBA in China?
We turn to Lakers superstar forward LeBron James, who has a lifetime Nike endorsement deal among his many business interests that include the film “Space Jam 2,” set for a release date in 2021. James tweeted after the Lakers played those preseason games under terms that the Chinese authorities imposed.
“My team and this league just went through a difficult week. I think people need to understand what a tweet or statement can do to others. And I believe nobody stopped and considered what would happen. Could have waited a week to send it.”
James’ tweet begs a question. Who has the right to set the timetable of support for Hong Kong residents to protest over their living conditions?
The story of China, Hong Kong and the NBA has many moving parts, some of which get more attention than the tweets of James and Morey. We turn to Immanuel Ness, professor of political science at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York.
“The Houston Rockets and the NBA are also beneficiaries of marketing expensive products made by low-wage workers in Chinese factories,” Ness said to MultiBriefs in an email. On that note, U.S.-based companies such as Apple Inc. rely on subcontractors such as Foxconn, a Taiwanese multinational electronics contract manufacturing company, whose low-wage workers assemble Apple products under grim workplace conditions.
“Hong Kong and Taiwanese financiers and contractors are beneficiaries of this global supply chain. By extension so are all Hong Kongers,” according to Ness.
Consider what Apple did when Chinese authorities acted against social media users who were part of the Hong Kong uprising. “The tech giant removed an app last night that allowed protesters in Hong Kong to track the police, after criticism from China’s state media,” according to The New York Times.
“It’s the latest clash between American businesses and an increasingly political China willing to flex its muscles to promote its interests.”
Apparently, Apple is willing to bow to the imperatives of Beijing. Washington backs the Hong Kong protests, according to Prof. Ness. What and to whom is Apple loyal? This is not rocket science, folks.
Apparently, Apple is loyal to its bottom line first. The right to dissent politically comes in second, as James’ tweet implies after the NBA’s corporate bottom line suffered. Apple’s ad image does not highlight its priority of the financial over the political.
The U.S.-China Business Council declined a request for comment. However, the advocacy group did issue a statement on Morey’s tweet of support for protesters in Hong Kong, and the response of policymakers.
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