Basketball: NBA and China controversy

By Prof Dr Ian Blackshaw

Nelson Mandela once reputedly said that sport and politics do not mix.

This is something that the NBA (National Basketball Association), the Men’s Professional Basketball League in North America, is currently finding out to be true to their financial cost.

All because of a tweet about the continuing political unrest in Hong Kong.

On 5 October 2019, Daryl Morey, General Manager of the ‘Houston Rockets’, tweeted, then deleted, in support of the protests as follows:

Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong.”

This immediately set off what has been described as “a geopolitical firestorm.”

The Chinese Government, the Chinese Basketball Association, and two Sponsors – Li-Ning and Shanghai Pudong Development Bank – announced that they were halting their relationships with the NBA and the Rockets specifically.

In response, the NBA issued statements in English and Mandarin distancing themselves from this tweet.

However, the NBA Commissioner, Adam Silver, rather than calming the situation, added fuel to the firestorm by stating that:

“…we are not apologising for Daryl exercising his freedom of expression.”

Basketball is very popular in China – with some 500 million fans and 300 million participants – and also very lucrative – worth more than $US 4 billion.

So, hopefully, this firestorm will blow over in due time.

However, the general lesson to be learned from this affair is that cultural differences must be respected at all times – particularly in sport that raises so many passions and social issues!

Prof Dr Ian Blackshaw may be contacted by e-mail at ‘’