The National Basketball Association (NBA) isn’t political; it’s a business. But lately, the league has been caught up in the Hong Kong-Mainland China conflict.
One little fan of the game has found a brilliant way to share his take on the difficult subject as well. At the Lakers-Clippers game on the NBA’s opening night, he proudly held up a Clippers T-shirt during a break and when the dance cam put him on the screen, he suddenly switched to a Hong Kong protest shirt before the cameraman could pan away.
Hong Kong started protesting against proposals to allow extradition to mainland China in June. Experts feared this could undermine the city’s judicial independence and endanger dissidents.
Until 1997, Hong Kong was a British colony. Now, it’s part of the Chinese rule, but does have autonomy from the mainland. Their arrangement is called “one country, two systems”.
City leader Carrie Lam agreed to suspend the extradition bill, however, demonstrations continued and demands for full democracy and an inquiry into police actions were included.
The bill was withdrawn in September. But clashes between police and activists have become more and more violent, with reports of police firing live bullets and protesters attacking officers and throwing petrol bombs.
The NBA-China controversy started when Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey tweeted his support for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. “Fight for Freedom. Stand With Hong Kong,” Morey’s now-deleted tweet read. As China voiced its annoyance with this statement, NBA executives publicly supported Morey’s protected right to free speech in America. As a result, China suspended business ties with the Houston Rockets.
The backlash didn’t end there. Furious Chinese companies suspended various licensing agreements with the NBA. They blacklisted the Rockets (which is historically the most popular U.S. basketball team in the country) by barring them from appearing on state TV. Basketball is one of the most popular sports in China with 300 million people playing the game, according to the NBA. The league estimates that it has around 800 million fans in the country, supporting it with millions of dollars. Now, all of this is in jeopardy.
Watch the boy in action in the video below
In recent days, the NBA started condemning Morey’s support for Hong Kong. The league discouraged players from commenting on Chinese policy; and pro–Hong Kong signs were confiscated at exhibition games in Washington, D.C. Derek Thompson, staff writer at The Atlantic called it a “superseded free expression in the nation’s capital.”