The NBA’s China controversy bubbled up just in time for the preseason, meaning that players and coaches will be forced to broach the complex, fraught-filled topic.
There’s no escaping media obligations, and those game and practice-related sessions will surely come with questions about China.
Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry was the latest to face that reality on Wednesday at practice.
Stephen Curry pleads ignorance on China
Much like his head coach Steve Kerr before him, Curry pleaded ignorance about China with a lengthy explanation about why he’s not going to directly comment on the situation that saw Houston Rockets general Daryl Morey’s tweet supporting Hong Kong prompt China to cut off access of the NBA to its 1.4 billion citizens via state-run media.
“I think this one, it’s a league-wide situation and our presence in China is just a different conversation than coach (Kerr) talking about gun violence or gender equality — things that for us as being spokespeople for people who can’t speak for themselves within our communities, that that makes a huge impact,” Curry said when asked about China.
“This situation — is a huge weight and gravity to it — and there remain some things that need to be sorted out. I just don’t know enough about Chinese history and how that’s influenced modern society today in that interaction to speak on it. So that’s just where we’re at. It’s not going away. So we’ll come back to it.”
Curry uses Kerr’s strategy
Curry’s response almost directly mirrors that of Kerr, who drew criticism for his silence when he’s been a vocal league leader on other social issues like gun control and police brutality.
Kerr’s approach to addressing social issues is shaped by the assassination of his father in 1983 in Beirut, where he was a university president. He said that he didn’t have enough knowledge about the China-Hong Kong conflict to give an informed response.
If Kerr and Curry are willing to speak on other hot topics, then staying silent on a human rights concern when speaking up can negatively effect theirs and the league’s bottom lines raises obvious flags.
Curry has shoes to sell, and the Warriors are a big brand overseas. It’s not the best look.
Speaking up comes with legitimate consequences
On the other hand, Morey simply tweeting “Fight For Freedom. Stand With Hong Kong.” set off a bonafide international incident with massive social and financial stakes.
On that front it’s not hard to sympathize with these decisions to tread lightly.
China controversy not going away
Curry’s right about one thing. This issue is not going away anytime soon. With games getting started, the presence of fan protests at arenas will surely proliferate. China’s standoff with the NBA has no resolution in sight.
And the NBA has yet to come up with answers to satisfy both legitimate financial issues and bigger human rights and freedom of expression concerns — because there aren’t any. None that are easy at least.
LeBron James hasn’t addressed the topic publicly yet. But soon, he’ll have no choice. The same can be said for other vocal high-profile NBA figures like Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving as well as outspoken former players like Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal.
These are dangerous waters for everyone associated with the NBA. But there’s no escaping them.
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