NBA players have been unusually quiet on China since the nation started severing ties with the league. That may stem from the private advice they are getting from sports agents to tread lightly — or avoid discussing it entirely — if they are asked about the uproar over Hong Kong.
“What I told my guys is, ‘Don’t even talk about it,’” said one sports agent, who asked not to be identified because of the politically sensitive nature of the issue. “I think it’s a fine line, and when you’re walking that fine line, it’s best to not even play around with it.”
NBA players and officials have been walking that line since Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey tweeted support for anti-government protesters in Hong Kong on Friday, according to interviews with players, league officials and sports agents. The tweet, “Fight for freedom. Stand with Hong Kong,” has since been deleted. But it’s touched off a political and economic firestorm between the NBA and its partners in China, the world’s second-largest economy.
The league stands to lose billions of dollars in revenue, despite mea culpas from Morey and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. Silver apologized for upsetting fans in China but not for Morey’s right to say what he wanted. The NBA has canceled several events scheduled for Shanghai this week, and state-run television station CCTV has pulled the league’s games from its airwaves, including Thursday’s game there between the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets. All of the NBA’s partners in China, including tech giant Tencent and Luckin Coffee, have suspended their relationships with the league.