It has been an absolutely turbulent year for the NBA, with the latest challenge now in navigating a return after the 2019-20 regular season was shut down in March due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Furthermore, the league additionally has had to endure two prominent deaths in former NBA commissioner David Stern and Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant. All of that makes it easy to forget the season got off on the wrong foot when Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey caused an international scene after he publicly supported anti-government protesters in Hong Kong via Twitter.
Although Morey quickly deleted his tweets, the damage was done as China decided to stop airing NBA games causing a major stir for commissioner Adam Silver, the rest of the league office, the Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento Kings.
According to Brian Windhorst of ESPN, it appears China and CCTV are still unwilling to air NBA games:
In its first statement on the matter in months, China’s CCTV said Tuesday it has no intention of resuming the airing of NBA games as the relationship between the sides remains icy in the wake of Daryl Morey’s Hong Kong tweet last fall.
In an effort to smooth over relations, the NBA hired Michael Ma to serve as their new CEO of NBA China. Ma’s father, Ma Guoli, was a prominent media figure who ran CCTV for 16 years. Despite Ma’s hiring, CCTV held firm on its stance:
CCTV shut down that speculation, however, releasing a statement on Weibo, a Chinese social media platform, “reiterating its consistent stance on national sovereignty.”
The financial consequences of Morey’s tweets were massive as Silver admitted the league lost close to $300 million in revenue. The loss in revenue meant that next season’s cap would be lower, and that loss is now magnified after the events of the coronavirus pandemic.
The NBA prides itself on being a global sport, but the loss of Chinese support is a huge blow from a business and fan perspective. There was some optimism that time and proper damage control could help rebuild the league’s relationship with China, but that seems like a stretch with how things currently stand.
While it is truly unfortunate that NBA games have no return date to Chinese television, the fact of the matter is the league needs to first figure out how to approach the current situation with COVID-19. Both players and the league remain focused on getting in as many games as possible, but all the logistical hurdles make this incredibly complicated.