NBA's Adam Silver: China's Tencent airing games a sign of 'thawing' tensions

Most of the NBA’s business dealings in China are still suspended

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said Wednesday that the resumption of one of the league’s key partnerships in China is a sign that its tattered relationship with Beijing is on the mend.

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Chinese streaming giant Tencent has resumed streaming NBA games on its platform, Silver said during an appearance at Sports Business Journal’s Dealmakers conference in New York. Like other prominent Chinese sponsors, Tencent had suspended ties to the NBA over its response to Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s Oct. 4 tweet in support of Hong Kong protesters.

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Most of the NBA’s business dealings in China are still suspended, and state-run television station CCTV has yet to air an NBA game this season. However, Silver said the league’s return to Tencent is indicative of a “thawing” in tense relations between the NBA and China.

Tencent is among the NBA’s most critical international partners. The platform reached a five-year contract extension with the NBA earlier this year said to be worth $1.5 billion, securing exclusive streaming rights in the Chinese market through the end of the 2024-25 season.

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The NBA drew widespread criticism from U.S. lawmakers in October after an initial statement was deemed a failure to adequately support Morey’s right to free speech. A subsequent statement from Silver backing Morey’s rights drew scorn in China, with local sponsors cutting ties with the NBA and pulling its gear offline.

Silver later said that the Chinese government had pushed him to fire Morey over his remarks. Beijing has denied that allegation.

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ESPN reported last month that NBA officials were optimistic that a trade deal between the U.S. and China would aid its own efforts to restore normalcy to their business in the country. A prolonged interruption to the NBA’s revenue from China could impact the league’s salary cap by as soon as next season.