Not red, white and blue: NBA and its sponsors show their true colors after Hong Kong tweet

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Corporate WATCH

By Joe Schaeffer

The NBA, which has prided itself as being the “most progressive league” in all of professional sports, is being absolutely pilloried for its appalling kowtowing to communist China this week. It all started when Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey had the temerity to issue a tweet expressing solidarity with those seeking freedom from communist oppression in Hong Kong. Chinese anger immediately followed, and the league, which has billions of dollars in business dealings with China at stake, immediately assumed a position of submission.

Blowback from outraged Americans had the NBA reeling once again, and commissioner Adam Silver, whose initial reply to the controversy was universally slammed for its subservience to China, released a second statement positioning the league as a champion of “free speech.” There was and never will be a criticism of China’s brutal regime coming from NBA offices, yet the league still laughably tried to spin this new stance as bold and resolute.

Houston Rockets guard James Harden. / Photo by Keith Allison / Creative Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

As anger continues to boil over among American sports fans, talk of boycotting NBA sponsors is in the air. As usual, there are plenty of targets to go around. In an attempt to aim for specificity, we here at Corporate Watch are going to highlight corporate partners of the most egregious actors in this pathetic affair. That would be two teams in particular and one utterly disgraceful league superstar.

Brooklyn Nets

Joseph Tsai is the owner of the Brooklyn Nets. He is the co-founder and executive chairman of e-commerce giant Alibaba Group. Born in Taiwan and educated in the United States, Tsai runs Alibaba along with his partner Jack Ma. Ma is a confirmed member of the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese state has assigned officials to work at Alibaba, the Financial Times has reported.

Tsai has expressed his unalloyed support for China in the wake of Morey’s Hong Kong comments. “Supporting a separatist movement in a Chinese territory is one of those third-rail issues, not only for the Chinese government, but also for citizens of China,” he wrote in an “Open letter to all NBA fans” posted on his Facebook page.

“The one thing that is terribly misunderstood, and often ignored, by the western press and those critical of China, is that 1.4 billion Chinese citizens stand united when it comes to the territorial integrity of China and the country’s sovereignty over her homeland. This issue is non-negotiable,” Tsai continued.

As is common with league teams, the Brooklyn Nets have an array of corporate sponsors dealing with arena signage at games, game-presentation visibility and other moneymaking angles. Corporate partners of the Brooklyn Nets are listed here. Companies such as American Express, Calvin Klein, Coca-Cola, Corona, GEICO, Honda, JetBlue airlines, Modell’s Sporting Goods, Stolichnaya vodka and many more should be made to explain just why they want to publicly partner with an owner who is adamantly and unapologetically aligned with a communist tyranny seeking to intimidate an American professional sports league into toeing its oppressive line in all public representations.

Houston Rockets

Another team that has shamed itself greatly in this ongoing scandal is the Rockets, the franchise that employs the man who made the tweet that launched a global corporate crisis. Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta rushed to disassociate the team from Morey’s support for Hong Kong, issuing a tweet proclaiming that the Rockets “are not a political organization.” “We’re here to play basketball and not to offend anybody,” Fertitta later told ESPN. Seeing that a communist tyranny is the only entity that would possibly be offended by Morey’s support for human freedom in Hong Kong, Fertitta drew only more negative attention toward the Rockets organization with his reply.

Fertitta is the owner of Landry’s Inc., one of the biggest restaurant corporations in America. Among the restaurants in the Landry’s family are Chart House, McCormick & Schmick’s, Morton’s steakhouse and Rainforest Cafe. Landry’s also owns the Golden Nugget casinos in Atlantic City, New Jersey and Las Vegas.

The Rockets also trotted out superstar James Harden (see below) to issue a humiliating public show of servility to the Red Chinese. New star guard Russell Westbrook was later hailed as a hero in China for donning traditional Chinese garb for a press conference in Japan, where the team was conducting a pre-season tour. Westbrook and the Rockets must have known that the Chinese would make heavy propaganda use of his gesture, which of course they instantly did.

Here is a list of the Houston Rockets corporate partners. AT&T, BBVA Bank, Southwest Airlines and Toyota are all prominently featured. Perhaps they would like to tell their American customers why they choose to financially support an organization that prefers to publicly express its love for an oppressive regime rather than dare anger it by showing the slightest sympathy for heroic protesters who are literally risking their lives for freedom?

James Harden

Taking selfishness and naked greed to sickening new heights in the world of professional sports (and ain’t that saying something?), Rockets guard James Harden, the face of the franchise and one of the 4 or 5 most recognizable figures in the NBA today, led the way in the team’s scurrying attempts to placate the angry Red Chinese. “We apologize. You know, we love China. We love playing there… they show us the most important love,” Harden said in the aftermath of Morey’s tweet.

In full cringe mode, Harden lathered on the adoration for the Chinese. “We appreciate them as a fan base,” Harden said. “We love everything there about them, and we appreciate the support that they give us individually and as [an] organization.”

What Harden appreciates most, of course, is money. Despite making $28.3 million in salary last season alone, Harden is keenly aware of the need to protect league global revenue streams in order to assure that even more cash is shoveled his way. This despite the fact that superstars like Harden make more in corporate endorsement deals than they do via their bloated player salaries. Harden signed a deal with globalist sneaker giant Adidas in 2015 that will earn him up to $200 million over 13 years.

Besides Adidas, other companies that have paid communist-appeasing sports multimillionaire Harden to endorse their products include Beat Electronics, which is owned by Apple, Foot Locker and State Farm.

“We believe this is the last stand for our future and freedom,” Chan, a 22-year-old recent college grad, told Business Insider in August in an online message. “We’d rather die in the fight than slowly suffocate to death after we lose the fight.”

Contrast that with the profile in cowardice being portrayed by the NBA.

“I did not intend my tweet to cause any offense to Rockets fans and friends of mine in China,” a thoroughly cowed Daryl Morey said in a backpedaling tweet on Oct. 6. “I was merely voicing one thought, based on one interpretation, of one complicated event. I have had a lot of opportunity since that tweet to hear and consider other perspectives.”

The NBA is showing its true colors. And despite what its famous logo would seem to imply, they are anything but red, white and blue. Globalist corporations have long been criticized for putting money ahead of people. Will American basketball fans continue to celebrate and fawn over every athletic movement of a league and players like James Harden who have made it so painfully clear that they are motivated by that same ruthless global corporate bottom line above and beyond anything else?

Joe Schaeffer is the former Managing Editor of The Washington Times National Weekly Edition. His columns appear at, and