NBA officials may be counting on successful trade negotiations between the U.S. and China to resolve their own lingering dispute with officials in Beijing, according to a report Tuesday.
The league’s lucrative business in China has been at a virtual standstill since October, when Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s tweet in support of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong kicked off an international controversy. The scandal escalated even as U.S. and Chinese officials made progress toward the early stages of a deal to end a longstanding trade war.
NBA executives are closely observing the negotiations and are optimistic that a trade agreement would “soothe the league’s relationships” in China, ESPN reported, citing league sources familiar with the matter. At present, Chinese state-owned CCTV is maintaining a boycott of NBA programming, and most of the league’s Chinese sponsors have suspended ties.
The ESPN report details how league and team executives reacted in the hours and days after Morey’s tweet. Chinese government officials and businesses balked at the pro-Hong Kong message just as NBA players were traveling to China for the league’s annual preseason tour.
Multiple NBA front offices grew concerned that the interruption of league business in China would impact salary cap projections for the following season. The NBA determines its salary cap through calculations tied to “basketball-related income,” meaning that any reduction in revenue from the league’s most lucrative overseas market could leave teams with less money to spend.
One NBA team reportedly adjusted its expected revenue from Chinese sponsorship deals to zero in response to the scandal.
The future of the NBA’s business interests in China remains unclear. League officials have been largely quiet on the situation since opening night of the 2019-20 season.
Vice President Mike Pence accused the NBA on Oct. 24 of “acting like a wholly owned subsidiary” of the Chinese government, arguing that players and owners had failed to adequately support Morey’s right to freedom of speech.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who said he resisted pressure from Chinese government officials to fire Morey, responded to Pence’s comment later that day.
“We’ve adhered to our core values from the first moment,” Silver said during an appearance on TNT last month. “To the extent that there was any doubt about that, we reinforced that those are our core values. And I’ll just say again, once again, we’re going to double down on engaging with the people of China and India and throughout Africa, around the world, regardless of their governments.”