One month after Enes Kanter Freedom was released by the Houston Rockets, the NBA is back on China’s airwaves.
Chinese state media reports that China Central Television has begun broadcasting NBA games once again, which was confirmed by a spokesman for the league. Only one NBA game had been broadcast on the state-run TV network since 2019. Now, the league is making a “full return” to China’s airwaves.
It’s certainly coincidental timing that this return comes after Freedom, the only person in the entire league to speak out against China’s human rights abuses and its genocide of the Uyghurs, was released last month. Freedom could provide useful depth for an NBA team, but no one has signed him.
NBA games had previously returned to China’s streaming service, Tencent. Even then, Houston Rockets games only returned in January 2021. Philadelphia 76ers games were still left off the platform, as former Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, who had supported the Hong Kong protests against the Chinese government, had taken the same position with Philadelphia.
If this is, indeed, a “full return” to Chinese airwaves, that would include Sixers games. But Morey is a general manager who rarely, if ever, will be shown on screen. Freedom would be, but his trade to and subsequent release by Houston ensures that he is currently out of the league, and no one has decided to bring him back yet.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver, whose league was running basketball camps in China where Chinese coaches were abusing players, thinks the league is being unfairly singled out by critics. Spokesman Mike Bass touted that the league has been aired in China for 35 years and that “we believe broadcasting games to our fans in China … is consistent with our mission to inspire and connect people everywhere through the game of basketball.”
League officials and personalities from Silver to LeBron James to Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta have groveled to China over the heresies of Morey and Freedom. Even recently, Los Angeles Clippers coach Tyronn Lue had criticized Morey for costing the NBA money in China. Morey is back in the shadows, while Freedom is conveniently out of the league. The league has pandered to China and paid its dues. Now, it’s back on the airwaves.
Don't expect anyone else to come forward and criticize the league’s special relationship with China’s genocidal regime. It’s clear how much money is at stake and what happens to dissenters like Freedom and Morey. The league will still happily weigh in on GOP politicians, random police officers, and allegations of racism. Anything is on the table until China tells players, coaches, and league officials to shut up and dribble.