It’s been a nightmare of a week for wokeness in corporate sports. To the delight of American sports fans tired of preaching by social justice warriors in athletic uniform, the NBA morality scolds are taking it on the chin. The league’s money tree in China is threatening to dry up over a tweet by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey that dared to express solidarity with the freedom activists of Hong Kong.
The sheer cowardice displayed by the NBA in hastening to appease an angry China sparked a firestorm of criticism here at home, uniting the political left and right in a way few issues have since President Trump was elected in 2016. Rockets star James Harden, the face of the franchise and one of the top five most recognizable players in the league, groveled before the Chinese authorities. “We apologize,” Harden said. “You know, we love China. We love playing there … they show us the most important love.”
Global Corporate Hypocrisy
For big-time pro sports today, the “most important love” comes in shades of green. NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s original statement on the controversy was equally subservient, mournfully admitting that Morey’s comment had “deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China, which is regrettable.” Silver went on to stress the league’s “great respect for the history and culture of China.”
In the face of withering blowback over this spinelessness back in the US, Silver issued a follow-up statement that is now being spun as showing immense bravery and resolve. Yet Silver pointedly avoided showing the slightest hint of support for Hong Kongers yearning to be free, couching the league’s new corporate line in “free speech” terms. “It is inevitable that people around the world – including from America and China – will have different viewpoints on different issues,” the statement read. “It is not the role of the NBA to adjudicate those differences.”
And with that, Silver announced that he would make his planned trip to China to further drum up business inside that oppressive nation. This would be the same Silver who could not stomach the notion of allowing the 2017 NBA All-Star Game to be played in North Carolina after that state enacted a law acknowledging the scientific reality of human gender. North Carolina’s “bathroom law” was meant to simply assure that men and women used the bathroom in government and other official public facilities that corresponded with their sex as stated on their birth certificates. Joining numerous other powerful corporations, Silver ruthlessly leveraged the financial clout of the NBA to bully North Carolina into changing the law, which it later did. “While we recognize that the NBA cannot choose the law in every city, state, and country in which we do business, we do not believe we can successfully host our All-Star festivities in Charlotte in the climate created by HB2,” Silver said in pulling the game out of the Tar Heel State.
There was no honeyed language about mutual understanding of differing opinions to be found here. The NBA was more than happy to help “adjudicate” the issue to fit with its social justice leanings as the “most progressive” pro sports league.
Silence of the Hams
Two prominent NBA coaches are also drawing fire for talking small on China after repeatedly slamming America, and often President Trump, for “institutional racism” and other issues on the leftist hit parade.
San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich has long offered himself up for easy praise as a heroic voice against Trumpism and America’s racial failings. Trump “brings out the dark side of human beings for his own purpose, which is himself,” Popovich declared in March 2018. “If it’s not pointed out, if people don’t stand up and point it out, he will become commonplace, and it’s not the world that I want to live in.”
Note the tone of fortitude boldly swimming against the stream in that quote. It’s a vibe Popovich often likes to give out. “There has to be an uncomfortable element in the discourse for anything to change,” he said in September 2017. “Whether it’s the LGBT movement, or women’s suffrage, race, it doesn’t matter. People have to be made to feel uncomfortable. And especially white people, because we’re comfortable.”
The tremendous profile in courage that is a multi-millionaire sports figure slamming white privilege in America is strangely absent when it comes to his employers’ business interests in China. “He came out strongly for freedom of speech,” Popovich said of Silver’s squishy second statement regarding Hong Kong. “I felt great again. He’s been a heck of a leader in that respect and very courageous. Then you compare it to what we’ve had to live through the past three years, it’s a big difference.”
Not only did Popovich fail to even mention the demonstrators risking their lives in the cause of freedom in Hong Kong, he threw the Trump card out there once again. Popovich has clearly defined his confrontational comfort zone. And calling out a communist dictatorship just can’t compete with lecturing the fans in the stands about their unfair “privilege.”
Then there is Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, who has frequently spouted off on social issues. Kerr in 2018 labeled any attempt to prevent NFL players from disrespecting the National Anthem as “playing to the fanbase. Basically just trying to use the anthem as fake patriotism, nationalism, scaring people. It’s idiotic.”
Strong words. Yet Kerr was not so remotely outspoken about his league’s China controversy. Asked if he had anything to say, he replied, “actually, I don’t. It’s a really bizarre international story and a lot of us don’t know what to make of it. It’s something I’m reading about, just like everybody is. But I’m not going to comment further than that.”
Kerr feels perfectly fine uniformly slamming the patriotic sentiments of the American “fanbase” concerning the anthem yet cannot bring himself to form an opinion on Hong Kongers yearning to free themselves from communist tyranny. “What I’ve found is that it’s easy to speak on issues that I’m passionate about and that I feel like I’m well-versed on,” Kerr continued. “And I’ve found that it makes the most sense to stick to topics that fall in that category. So, I try to keep my comments to those things.”
Ripping the “fake” patriotism and dangerous nationalism of the rubes in the stands is a topic on which Kerr feels expert enough to comment. Annoying a regime that does hundreds of millions of dollars in business with the corporate entity that allows him to earn a very fine living is beyond his scope, however.
This is how far the NBA overblown and thoroughly fraudulent “social conscience” really extends. The new basketball season tips off on Oct. 22. Americans can spend their money accordingly.