NBA says it has terminated relationship with scrutinized Chinese training camp

·4 min read

The NBA has closed one of the most scrutinized elements of an increasingly scrutinized relationship with China.

Responding to a letter sent by U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) to commissioner Adam Silver about the NBA’s relationship with China, league COO Mark Tatum revealed that the league had ended its relationship with its Xinjiang basketball academy more than a year ago. The response was obtained by Sports Illustrated’s Ross Dellinger.

The NBA’s Xinjiang camp had drawn criticism because of its location in a region where the Chinese government reportedly maintains political reeducation camps in which around a million Muslims are held. Prisoners have described an experience of brainwashing and torture.

The choice to establish a training center in Urumqi, the capital city of Xinjiang, made for an easy target as the league’s relationship with China sparked a political firestorm last year after Daryl Morey’s “Free Hong Kong” tweet.

NBA answers Senator’s other questions about China

In her letter, Blackburn expressed concern about the NBA’s interests in China and rehashed several points of Morey fallout, including Brooklyn Nets owner Joseph Tsai’s letter labeling Hong Kong protesters as a “separatist movement,” LeBron James calling Morey “misinformed” and “not really educated.”

The letter finished with the following three questions addressed to Silver with a July 21 deadline:

1. What are the anticipated financial consequences of China Central Television’s (CCTV) continued ban on the airing of NBA games?

2. Please outline the scope of the NBA’s relationship with Chinese state-owned enterprise Alibaba.

3. The NBA reportedly continues to operate a training center Xinjiang, one of the world’s worst humanitarian zones. What steps is the NBA taking to shutter this location?

Per Sports Illustrated, Tatum responded to the first question by saying that the CCTV’s ban on airing NBA games had cost the league an amount of money estimated in the range of hundreds of millions of dollars.

The second question reportedly received a five-sentence outline about the NBA’s multi-year contracts with Alibaba, mostly centered on distributing NBA content on Alibaba’s digital platforms. It’s probably worth noting that Tsai is also a co-founder of Alibaba.

The third question about Xinjiang received a one-sentence reply:

“The NBA has had no involvement with the Xinjiang basketball academy for more than a year, and the relationship has been terminated.”

Apparently, the response did not satisfy Blackburn.

SHENZHEN, CHINA - OCTOBER 12: #1 Kentavious Caldwell-Pope of Los Angeles Lakers slam dunk during NBA China Games 2019 between Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets at Shenzhen Universiade Center on October 12, 2019 in Shenzhen, China. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Zhizhao Wu/Getty Images)
The NBA has profited from business in China for years. That relationship has drawn much scrutiny in the last year. (Photo by Zhizhao Wu/Getty Images)

Sen. Blackburn: Adam Silver sidestepped letter

In a statement released to Sports Illustrated following Tatum’s response, Blackburn accused Silver, who is currently overseeing the NBA’s attempt to restart its season at Disney World, of sidestepping the issue of China. She also took issue with the tone of the Tatum’s reply and said it did not address a conflict between the league’s finances and values, which she never asked them to do.

However, Blackburn did express happiness that the NBA had ended its relationship with the Xinjiang academy:

“It is inconceivable and disrespectful for Commissioner Silver to sidestep an issue that requires real leadership,” Blackburn says in the statement. “The reply from Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer Mark Tatum lacks the appropriate concern and responsibility that should accompany congressional correspondence. These technical answers do not address the larger questions about whether there is a conflict between their financial decisions and professed values.

“However, I am pleased that the NBA has publicly admitted for the first time that it has ended its involvement with the Xinjiang academy. I will continue my inquiries into questions about the Uyghurs and the NBA’s corporate partnerships at the appropriate organizational leadership levels.”

Blackburn has frequently targeted China since taking office in 2019. She has called the country part of a “new axis of evil” and pushed for legislation that would allow U.S. citizens to sue the Chinese government over the pandemic, per Newsweek.

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