The United States and the National Basketball Association learned a valuable lesson recently: Be careful what you tweet. Especially if you’re an employee in management of an NBA franchise that does business with a communist country.
China has over time built continuous billion-dollar deals with the NBA owners established in the 1980s. One tweet by Houston Rockets General Manager Darryl Morey supporting groups of Hong Kong protesters has upset the apple cart.
It so angered China that just like that the communist country has suspended relations with the NBA. Preseason games since 2004 have been played in China for billions of fans. Not last week.
The Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers games were not broadcast on CCTV and Tencent, the huge internet giant offering multiple e-services. No interviews were permitted by the teams, and players’ and coaches’ communications about the games and the events stopped.
The NBA has had an office in China since 1992 and has built such a strong relationship financially that 21% of the league’s revenues annually come from business with China.
Obviously in the U.S. the right to free speech is a way of life. It amazes me—and certainly this is no small thing—that in 2019, after all these years, that someone from one of these two different cultures worlds apart, China and the United States, says something that is offensive to the other and, just like that, business becomes personal and previous relationships and partnerships are frozen.
This relationship is huge with so many tentacles and parts and extensions that it took an NBA management employee to expose the fine print in China’s sensitivity to criticism from a global business partner. One of the greatest international stars to ever play in the NBA was Yao Ming. The Hall of Fame star is the president of the Chinese Basketball Association, and of course he’s from China. Today he’s an important goodwill ambassador across Asia to many millions of fans.