NBA's losses are substantial after China fallout: commissioner

The NBA is still reeling from the effects of a pro-democracy tweet in support of Hong Kong sent by Houston Rockets general manager, which is costing the league visibility and money.

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“The losses have already been substantial,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said at the TIME 100 Health Summit. “Our games are not back on the air in China, as we speak, and we’ll see what happens next.”

The fallout includes an impact on the league’s visibility in China. More than 500 million Chinese watched NBA programming last year, including 21 million who tuned in for the NBA Finals.

Earlier this month Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets, tweeted in support of the democracy movement in Hong Kong. The Chinese government was enraged by the tweet, leading to friction between China’s authorities and the NBA.

The topic has become a firestorm in the United States, with many fans upset that the NBA has taken the side of a communist country, possibly because of pressure from Nike, a league sponsor, that generated $6.20 billion from China last year. Comments made by Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James earlier this week in which he took shots at Morey only polarized the issue more, leading to the opinion that this is about the emerging market for the NBA in China.

Silver went on to defend the league’s handling of the entire situation, despite the criticism that they had backed down from supporting Morey’s free speech and caved in to China’s demands.

He hailed the NBA’s values – “These American values” – as having guided a response that drew national criticism.

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“We made clear that we were being asked to fire him, by the Chinese government, by the parties we dealt with, government and business,” Silver said. “We said there’s no chance that’s happening. There’s no chance we’ll even discipline him.”