Sen. Blackburn demands answers on NBA-China ties

by WorldTribune Staff, July 2, 2020

While some of the NBA’s most vocal players slam President Donald Trump and proclaim to stand for equal rights in the U.S., they are silent when it comes to the vast human rights abuses in China because of the league’s lucrative ties to the communist nation, a Republican senator said.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee wrote in a letter to the NBA on Tuesday that the league has “created an appearance” that it is focused more on making money than in principles, according to Sports Illustrated.

The NBA runs a training center in China’s Xinjiang province, where the communist government is holding more than 1 million Muslims in concentration camps.

“While the NBA has worked hard to raise awareness of social issues at home, there is concern that the league has turned a blind eye to human rights abuses committed abroad — even bowing down to pressure last year,” Blackburn wrote. “The actions of the NBA and some players have created an appearance that your league prioritizes profit over principle.”

Last year, Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted support for the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong before the league’s China series between the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets was about to start.

The league felt the immediate backlash and caved to pressure from the communist government in China to apologize. Morey issued subsequent tweets to try and stop the bleeding while Rockets star James Harden apologized for the tweet.

Still, China began to crack down on the NBA almost immediately as Chinese sportswear brands either suspended or severed ties with the Rockets. The communist government also blacked out broadcasts of the league’s preseason games in the country and canceled NBA Cares events and media availabilities ahead of the exhibition games between the Lakers and Nets.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver claimed to support Morey’s right to free speech but said he regretted the outcome.

Not only were the league and its players unwilling to risk financial loss by standing up for Hong Kong democracy, but they also stood silent as reports revealed that China was detaining over 1 million Muslims in concentration camps in Xinjiang province, where the NBA runs a training academy.

According to the Citizen Power Institute (CPI), much of China’s apparel production, including Nike NBA jerseys, is done by Uighurs and other Muslim ethnic groups detained in the concentration camps which are intended to cleanse them of their ethnic and religious identity and make them loyal to the Chinese Communist Party.

Vice President Mike Pence blasted the NBA at the time for acting like a “wholly-owned subsidiary” of China.

“Some of the NBA’s biggest players and owners, who routinely exercise their freedom to criticize this country, lose their voices when it comes to the freedom and rights of other peoples,” Pence said. “In siding with the Chinese Communist Party and silencing free speech, the NBA is acting like a wholly-owned subsidiary of the authoritarian regime.”

In her letter, Blackburn gave the NBA until July 21 to answer three questions:

1) What are the anticipated financial consequences of China Central Television’s (CCTV) continued ban on airing NBA games?

2) Please outline the scope of the NBA’s relationship with Chinese state-owned enterprise Alibaba.

3) The NBA reportedly continues to operate a training center in Xinjiang, one of the world’s worst humanitarian zones. What steps is the NBA taking to shutter this location?”

According to NBC News, last year 800 million Chinese watched an NBA game. The league is estimated to be worth about $5 billion in China and the NBA signed a new partnership agreement with an Internet company in the country for $1.5 billion. China is 10 percent of the league’s revenue — and that could climb to 20 percent by 2030.

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