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How did the NBA feel about Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s tweet, which supported Hong Kong protesters trying to maintain and expand their freedoms and triggered heavy-handed responses from China?
The answer might have depended on which language you speak.
In English, the league’s statement acknowledged that Morey offended people in China but also acknowledged his right to speak for himself.
In Mandarin, the league’s statement said the NBA was disappointed in Morey’s inappropriate comment.
The New York Times emphasized the discrepancy:
— andrea margaret (@zagatam) October 8, 2019
The league clarified that only its English statement was official. NBA commissioner Adam Silver eventually put out yet another statement more strongly supporting Morey’s freedom of expression.
Sports Business Journal:
NBA's Adam Silver on one lesson learned from the current difficulties with China: "We will only have so-called approved translations. Of all the issues that we were dealing with, there was absolutely no uncertainty in terms of what my words were in English." #SBJDEALMAKERS pic.twitter.com/jLQZmr9HZu
— Sports Business Journal (@sbjsbd) December 4, 2019
A lesson learned there – and this is one we put into practice going forward – is that we will only have so-called approved translations. Because of all the issues that we were dealing with, I think there was absolutely no uncertainty in terms of what my words were in English, what the NBA’s words were in English. The fact that there multiple, frankly, Mandarin translations of it, and it, some cases, I don’t think people of ill will, but where the comma is, where the modifier is, was changing seemingly the meaning. I know, for example, The New York Times ran a story – I was still in China at the time – with a sort of side-by-side and said, “Aha, they’re saying one thing to the American. They’re saying something else in China.” There was zero intention of that, and that could have been solved with a so-called approved translation.
It’s good the problem is getting addressed going forward. But I still can’t understand how the league didn’t already have these protocols in place. Especially as a global business, the NBA should have always been concerned about how its official statements are being translated on its own channels. Otherwise, the league is effectively letting someone else speak for it.
The result of this error might be the NBA having its cake and eating it, too. An American audience saw Silver strongly support Morey’s freedom of expression. A Chinese audience saw Silver rebuke Morey. Everyone got what they wanted.
Though the NBA’s relations in China remain strained, I wonder how much more tension there’d be if not for the unapproved translation.