For several days, the NBA’s stars and coaches have appeared uncomfortable, unwilling or unable to discuss the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and China’s mainland human rights abuses. The league’s solution? Shutting down discussion altogether.
The league announced Friday it will not hold any media availability for the rest of its Chinese jaunt, a day after Beijing prohibited any kind of news conference before or after a preseason exhibition game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Brooklyn Nets.
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“We have decided not to hold media availability for our teams for the remainder of our trip in China,” the league said in a statement. “They have been placed into a complicated and unprecedented situation while abroad and we believe it would be unfair to ask them to address these matters in real-time.”
The NBA made the decision independent of the Chinese government, ESPN reported.
An NBA spokesman told ESPN that players on the Nets and Lakers are free to comment on the “circumstances” without fear of being disciplined. The policy was reportedly discussed already between the players and the NBA Players’ Association officials, so the chance is “negligible” that a player would step outside of the league’s preferred path and comment on any of the controversial issues that have arisen before and during the trip, ESPN reported.
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The second — and final — game for the Lakers and Nets on the China trip is set for Saturday at Shenzhen Universiade Sports Centre, located just 20 miles north of Hong Kong.
The tension between the league and China started earlier this week after Houston Rockets’ general manager Daryl Morey tweeted from his personal account a pro-Hong Kong message ahead of the Rockets’ own preseason trip to Japan.
The NBA has tried to do damage control but instead has only caused more outrage by appearing to abandon western values to placate China.
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The league took more heat Thursday after a Rockets official shut down a CNN reporter’s question about the fallout from the tweet to stars James Harden and Russell Westbrook. The league later apologized for the incident.