Political question to James Harden and Russell Westbrook shut down: ‘Basketball questions only’ (video)

Dan Feldman

NBA commissioner Adam Silver: “The NBA will not put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees and team owners say or will not say on these issues. We simply could not operate that way.”

Also Silver’s NBA: We’ll cancel media availability at the behest of the Chinese government.

Operating a business globally requires compromises. The NBA is learning that the hard way after Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted support for Hong Kong protesters, who are seeking to maintain and expand their freedoms. China and Chinese business are retaliating and costing the NBA money.

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Many NBA players – including Rockets stars James Harden and Russell Westbrook – also act as global brands. So, they face similar dilemmas. Harden, standing with Westbrook, even said, “We apologize. We love China.”

Does a situation like this make Harden and Westbrook less likely to speak about political issues?

That was the question CNN’s Christina Macfarlane asked them today.

Off camera, a spokeswoman said they were taking only basketball questions. She added that the question had already been answered.

Macfarlane said her particular question hadn’t been answered, and I believe she’s right. If it has been, I haven’t seen it.

It’s unclear whether the spokeswoman works for the NBA, Rockets or someone else.

“Basketball questions only” is a common response to touchy subjects. It’s getting heightened attention now, with controversy swirling about free speech and the NBA. But it’s not some new tactic to protect China or the NBA’s business interests there. If you have a problem with this heavy-handedness, you should have a problem with it the many other times it happens.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Harden and Westbrook decided before the press conference not to answer political questions. Either could have spoken up, but didn’t, allowing the spokeswoman to deflect on their behalf. Whoever the spokeswoman works for, the star guards surely held more clout in this situation.

It’s fine for Harden and Westbrook not to answer those questions. They’re basketball players. If they want to participate in the discussion, that’s great. If they don’t, that’s also their right.

But “basketball questions only” is a facade. Westbrook had already answered a question totally about rugby.

Let’s call a spade a spade: Many are afraid of sticking their foot in their mouths on China, Hong Kong and the NBA after Morey’s tweet. It’s easier just to stay silent.

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