Disclaimer: This post is a pastiche of reporting and opinions from multiple websites, including ESPN, TheAthletic, National Review, TheResurgent and even Babylon Bee. I have written a little but mostly it is other writers, too many to give credit to each one.
“Believe me, the China situation bothers me. . . . But at the end of the day, I have a responsibility to my owners to make money,” then–NBA commissioner David Stern said in a 2006 interview. He may not have known then where his allegiance to the bottom line would lead the league and the game he helped to grow. To hear him tell it then, Stern was intent on turning the NBA into an exporter of American values. Under his leadership, the league began its “Basketball Without Borders” program, which initially sent NBA players to run basketball camps in geo-politically tense parts of the world. “NBACares” television spots dominated game breaks. “We’re going to keep right on showing them,” Stern told Sports Illustrated when asked about public annoyance with the frequency of the ads. “Because social responsibility is extremely important to us.” Back in 2006, even the NBA commissioner defined “social responsibility” as exporting our values of individual freedom and opportunity.
Of all the possible new markets, China has always been the crown jewel: a basketball-crazed country deprived of a quality domestic product. China’s basketball roots go deep—Mao Zedong was a big supporter, and the People’s Liberation Army has long seen the game as a popular pastime. Stern saw the potential and opened the relationship in 1987 by offering NBA broadcasts to China Central Television for free. That was then, this is now.
From broadcast rights for free to billions at stake, from exporting OUR values to groveling before totalitarian “values”. Compare the NBA’s utterly craven responses to China’s threats over the Morey tweet with their boldness in pulling an All Star game from Charlotte, N.C., over the state considering a ban on letting transgender people use bathrooms for the oppose sex. NBA players were similarly dragooned into that controversy. “I recognize this was a tough decision for the NBA, but I respect the choice. Discrimination of any kind cannot be allowed,” said Stephen Curry (what the heck does that mean, Mr. Curry?). Carmelo Anthony said, “Believe it or not, we’re always put in tough situations. Some things you can talk about, some things you can’t talk about. I think the NBA has to decide where that line is and when to cross it.”
NEW YORK, NY—In an effort to salvage its relationship with China, the NBA is now requiring all players to stand for the Chinese national anthem at the beginning of every game. The official song of the People’s Republic of China, “March of the Volunteers,” will be played at the start of all professional basketball games, whether at home or abroad. All players, fans, coaches, and employees will be required to stand and solemnly sing lyrics including the following:
The NBA’s hypocrisy is just the same as that of Apple’s Tim Cook, who also threatens boycotts and blockades of states that allow religious freedom, while saying nothing about religious freedom in China. If you own an Apple product, you should expect it to work without censorship if you bought it in Hong Kong, but if you’re friends with China, like Apple, it won’t. The Quartz News app, for instance, won’t work because Apple removed it at the request of the Chinese government, because it’s a bit too on-the-nose about the Hong Kong protests. In America, you can buy a Volkswagen and criticize Angela Merkel. You can turn around and sell financial products back to German buyers who hate president Donald Trump. The same goes for Japanese and Korean brands. But free trade with China has certain conditions attached. Chinese companies act in lockstep because the government controls them. The government controls every aspect of its people’s lives, from what they eat, to what they believe. Economics 101: Under pure Communism, all business enterprises are owned by the State. Under pure Fascism, the business enterprises are “private”, owned by individuals and shareholders, but the State controls them. Which is China’s system?
And the conditions have an insidious effect. There are layers of self-censorship and self-abasement that extend into America. The NBA doesn’t just abase itself in order to keep its access to China’s lucrative markets. The reporters who cover the NBA are afraid to criticize the league and its president. ESPN reporter Adrian Wojnarowski, who followed the controversy over the 2017 all-star game in Charlotte, has been studiously silent on this controversy. ESPN, his Disney-owned parent company, which editorialized extensively in favor of the NBA’s anti–North Carolina protest, is running only the most pro forma news coverage of the NBA controversy. Someone leaked an internal memo from ESPN management insisting its staff, long willing to talk about American politics, refrain from talking about Hong Kong and Chinese politics. Disney, which now owns most of Hollywood, is reliant on Chinese viewers for its billion dollar box offices. ESPN’s actions come months after Paramount changed Tom Cruise’s famous jacket from Top Gun for the sequel. The patches for Taiwan and Japan disappeared. Tencent, the Chinese film company that also has ties to the NBA, helped produce the new movie.
United and American Airlines wiped Taiwan off their Chinese website maps because China demanded it. Marriott fired an Omaha, NE based employee for liking a pro-Tibet tweet after China excoriated the company. Apple, Inc. has likewise bent over backwards for China. Try to find the Taiwan flag in the emoji keyboard while in Hong Kong and you will come up empty. Apple also adhered to Chinese demands that iCloud data of people in China be stored on servers in China. The Chinese undoubtedly want this to be able to monitor its police state.
Facebook has run counter to most American corporations. Though the company could undoubtedly make massive amounts of money off one billion tech savvy Chinese citizens, the company refuses to do business in China. It has allowed platform access in Hong Kong, but just the other day blocked Hong Kong’s police force from using WhatsApp. The police were purportedly using the service to track protesters. It is rare to see an American company put freedom ahead of Chinese money.
If Chinese authoritarianism is able to spread into American life through corporate power, because corporations are set up to serve shareholders and have trouble thinking ethically beyond that, some are saying perhaps it is the duty of the state to interrupt the exchange mechanism through which this corruption proceeds. I don’t agree. Such a “solution“–giving the State more power–is too much like Chinese totalitarian thinking.
Faced with similar pressure, Comedy Central and the writers of South Park performed much more admirably. Last week, the show aired an episode, “Band in China,” which mocked the Chinese government for its constant attempts to censor criticism and the American entertainment industry for its willingness to assist in those censorship efforts as long as the profits continue to roll in. China, almost as if to prove the show’s point, responded to the episode by “deleting virtually every clip, episode and online discussion of the show from Chinese streaming services, social media and even fan pages.” In turn, South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker reacted with a fake apology mocking the NBA for “loving money more than freedom and democracy” and the Chinese government for its attempted censorship.
Surprise: 1 picture and 1 paragraph are SATIRE, from the BabylonBee. Can you figure out which paragraph is satire? If you can’t, does it say more about you or about how absurd this situation has become? I think the latter. (the paragraph is the one following the picture of the Chinese flag in the background of the NBA all-star game). I do have a unique solution: Like South Park, flood China with so many videos, TV shows and other media satirizing totalitarianism (not just theirs) that they will be overwhelmed–satire whack-a-mole!