If the NBA plays a game in China and nobody in the host country sees it on television, did it really happen?
It turns out it did, actually, and Kyrie Irving’s aggravated facial fracture is proof. Just more than a minute into the contest, the newly signed Brooklyn Nets superstar inadvertently took Rajon Rondo’s swinging arm to the face, exacerbating an injury he suffered during an offseason pickup game. Irving did not return to the game, a close contest that the Nets won, 114-111. The extent of his injury is unknown, partly because the Chinese government reportedly insisted on canceling all media availability.
The absence of pre- and postgame interviews with players and coaches was not the only sign of the frosty fallout from Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s since-deleted tweet expressing support for anti-government protesters in Hong Kong this past weekend. According to multiple reports, the floors at Shanghai’s Mercedes Benz Arena were re-sanded to scrub logos from corporations that had pulled sponsorships, neither national anthem was performed, no players addressed a full crowd, and NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s pregame press conference was also canceled, all at the behest of the Chinese government.
There was some question as to whether Thursday’s game between the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers would even be played, considering two NBA Cares charitable events and a fan appreciation night were both canceled in advance. Signage in the city was stripped down, as was any information about the game on the arena’s website, according to the Associated Press.
China’s state-run television station, CCTV, opted not to broadcast the game, as did Chinese streaming service Tencent. The game did air Stateside on NBATV, where warm receptions for both Irving and LeBron James could be seen from the crowd. Fans entering the arena were reportedly given Chinese flags, and the AP spotted at least one anti-Silver sign in a sea of red banners.
“If we have to choose, we will choose to support our country,” Ma Shipeng, a fan who handed out 900 flags at the game, told the AP. “We only like some particular basketball players, but we don’t like NBA anymore. I give away Chinese flags tonight, as I hope people to put the national interest in front of following NBA. I will continue to support James. But none of our Chinese people would accept what Morey and Silver said.”
The NBA and Silver issued a series of statements earlier in the week trying to curtail Morey’s comments while also endorsing his freedom to express support for Hong Kong protesters who oppose a proposed extradition law that impinges their freedoms.
Getty Images captured an expletive-laden sign aimed at Morey outside the arena.
As for the game, which ended on Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s failed game-tying 3-point attempt, Lakers superstars James and Anthony Davis combined for 35 points, eight rebounds and seven assists in 25 minutes apiece. Neither played the fourth quarter.
The Nets and Lakers are scheduled to play again in Shenzhen on Saturday.
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