NBA loses hundreds of millions of dollars in China, may return to play preseason games in 2020

Kurt Helin
NBC Sports

CHICAGO — The NBA’s damaged relationship with China hit the league’s bottom line hard, and the relationship is not yet back to normal, but NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is convinced it will get there. Eventually.

The fallout from a Tweet from Rockets’ GM Daryl Morey supporting the protestors in Hong Kong — and the league’s refusal to publicly punish him or remove him from office — has hit the league’s pocketbook hard, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver admitted Saturday night.

“I think that the magnitude of the loss will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars,” Silver said in his annual All-Star Weekend press conference. “Certainly, probably less than $400 million, maybe even less than that.

“It’s substantial. I don’t want to run from that. We were taken off the air in China for a period of time, and it caused our many business partners in China to feel it was, therefore, inappropriate to have ongoing relationships with us. But I don’t have any sense that there’s any permanent damage to our business there, and as I’ve said before, we accept the consequences of our system and our values.”

That financial hit has impacted the league’s bottom line, and the salary cap.

After a slow and rocky start, the NBA eventually backed Morey’s right to express his opinion on the political matter of the protests in Hong Kong. However, that is a third-rail issue for the Chinese government, and the fact Morey apologized and soon removed the Tweet was not enough — the Chinese government pushed for him to be fired. The Rockets and the league made no such move, Morey remains the Rockets GM.

As a result, NBA games are still not broadcast on state-run television in China, although they are available for streaming (and the viewership is similar to past years), Silver said.

Silver struck an optimistic tone that the NBA’s relationship would return to normal, eventually. That includes the possibility that the league will play preseason games there next fall, something it has done most years for a long time.

“There were two sets of games that may be potentially played in China,” Silver said. “There have been discussions about pre-Olympic games. So this would be USA basketball playing in China. So there are ongoing discussions there, and there also are ongoing discussions about whether we will return for preseason games next year.”

Silver said that the outbreak of the Coronavirus has put all those talks on hold as China focuses on that health crisis.

“It’s almost hard for us to be having conversations about the broadcasting of games when there’s a major national, if not global, health crisis happening,” Silver said. “So the answer is I just don’t know sort of next steps in terms of the process. We’ve had lines of communication open for a long time with counterparts in China, and as I said, I think there’s a mutual interest in returning to normalcy in terms of the distribution of our games.”

Silver added that the league has helped, donating to relief efforts tied to the virus, as it does in the wake of disasters around the world.

For now, all the league can do is be patient and wait.

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