ESPN Anchor Slams NBA’s ‘Embarrassing’ China Capitulation

james harden, houston rockets, nba, china, espn, keith olbermann

In the backlash of the pro-Hong Kong tweet from Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, one ESPN anchor calls the NBA "embarassing." | Source: Stacy REVERE / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP

The NBA is in a real pickle. After developing a strong reputation for political integrity and social awareness, they’re having a hard time sticking to their ideals when the money is on the table.

ESPN SportsCenter anchor Keith Olbermann and many others are calling it out. In response to a video surfacing of James Harden apologizing for his general manager’s pro-Hong Kong tweet, Olbermann tweeted that it’s “embarrassing beyond words.”

He added:

“[T]o stand up for the democratic freedoms we have here is to risk alienating those who would suppress them. The NBA has failed.”

It All Started with a Tweet from a Rockets Executive

Last Friday, Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey published – and has since deleted – a tweet supporting the Hong Kong protestors. Morey shared an image that said, “Fight for Freedom, Stand for Hong Kong.”

houston rockets daryl morey hong kong tweet
Daryl Morey’s now-deleted tweet about the Hong Kong protests. | Source: Twitter

Hong Kong is a rare semi-autonomous Chinese city, and the protests centered around a law that would allow China to extradite criminal suspects to the mainland. They’ve since expanded into a general pro-democracy movement, one that has been met with violence on multiple occasions.

The most woke sports league in the world would surely get behind their fight for freedom, right? Nope, sorry, not even a little bit.

China is the NBA’s most important international market. They announced a $1.5 billion streaming partnership with Chinese tech giant Tencent in July. The NBA has said that over 490 million people in China watched content on the league’s platforms last year.

China canceled an upcoming G-League game, and now the NBA is doing whatever it can to keep their money flowing into their pockets.

NBA Scrambles to Keep the China Money Flowing

Now, the apologies are rushing in. Morey has backtracked his statements, shouting out his Chinese sponsors in the process.

The NBA released a statement, saying:

“We recognize that the views expressed by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey have deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China, which is regrettable.”

Of course, they even got one of their biggest superstars, James Harden, to speak for them. He’s spent all summer working on a highly anticipated new move.

While we all thought it was a one-legged three-pointer, it turns out it may be a crossover: from principled individual to corporate shill. 

“We apologize. You know, we love China. We love playing there,” he said, adding, “We love everything there about them, and we appreciate the support that they give us individually and as an organization.”

NBA Backlash Unites Critics on Right & Left

Unfortunately for the NBA, Olbermann is not the only famous figure criticizing the league’s capitulation. Politicians have raced to the topic to point out that they’re not the only hypocrites out there.

Politicians from the right, such as Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, were among the first to sound off. Rubio called the NBA “grotesque,” while Cruz said the NBA is “shamefully retreating.”

Politicians from the left, like minority leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, tweeted that the NBA’s “gag rule” was “unacceptable.”

If nothing else comes from this, at least it may unite America and give the NBA all the free publicity it could ask for – and hopefully, quite a bit that it doesn’t want.

Last modified: September 27, 2020 7:00 PM
Aaron is the U.S. editor of located in Los Angeles. He has been a professional writer and comedian for over ten years. After graduating with honors from Western Michigan University, he's written extensively for newspapers, websites, and various TV shows and web series. Email: [email protected] LinkedIn profile.
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