All That and a Bag of Mail

Rejoice, it’s Friday.

It has been an absolute disastrous week for the NBA in China, maybe the most disastrous week any pro sports league has had in my life, and that’s what most of you want to talk about in the Friday mailbag this week.

But before we get to that I want to remind you that you can win $10k of my money this week by playing Outkick’s free college football pick’em. I hope you all lose, but go play.

Okay, here we go with the mailbag.

Franklin writes:

“Did China shoot themselves in the foot with the their nuclear response to Daryl Morey’s tweet? 

If China had just did nothing then Morey’s tweet gets a few likes, some retweets, and it’s gone.
But by bringing the hammer down, forcing everyone in the NBA from commissioner Adam Silver down to the parking valets at the Lakers arena to bow down and apologize, they’ve exposed how the league is wholly owned by the Chinese central party.”
I don’t think anyone looked good this week, not the NBA, not the NBA’s players and coaches, not China, not the vast majority of the woke media that usually slobbers all over the NBA all the time, it was an ugly week for anyone in this grouping.
Let’s start with Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey. I support his first amendment rights to say whatever he wants about any topic, but did he really think it was smart to Tweet support for Hong Kong protesters while he was in Asia representing the NBA? Especially since he’s the most prominent executive of the most popular team in China?
I just have no idea what he hoped to gain by sending this Tweet.
Purely from a business perspective it just seems like a really bad decision that offered no real benefit to him. Was anyone sitting around thinking, “I wonder what Daryl Morey thinks about the protests in Hong Kong?” before he sent this Tweet?
No way.
No one cared.
Now maybe he’s brilliant and wanted to get fired from the Rockets and become a free speech martyr instead of watching Russell Westbrook and James Harden potentially get in a fight on the court with each other, but I just fail to see any positive from him electing to take to Twitter and share this opinion.
But once he sent the Tweet and China responded the way they did, Adam Silver, the Houston Rockets, and the NBA had no choice but to immediately support him.
Yet that didn’t happen. Immediately both the Houston Rockets owner and NBA commissioner Adam Silver apologized to China. Later Silver tried to say he hadn’t really apologized, but the fact that they put out two statements which were translated differently in Chinese and English kills that argument.
The league panicked and apologized.
And all week long the NBA continued to panic and apologize, all the way up to agreeing to play games in China without its players or executives being permitted to talk with the media at all.
As for China, you’re right, they could have completely ignored the story or quietly reached out to the NBA and expressed their hope that the NBA’s visit to their country was going to be a non-political goodwill tour. I doubt that Morey’s Tweet would have received any real attention at all if China had just ignored it or quietly requested Morey take it down until he left Asia.
Instead this turned into a major international incident and tens of millions of Americans who otherwise hadn’t been paying attention to Hong Kong at all are suddenly aware of the protests there.
If I’d been NBA commissioner, I would have pulled my teams from China.
Yes, that would have potentially resulted in a substantial financial hit, but I think it would have been short term in nature. Do you really think the Chinese NBA fans aren’t going to consume the league’s product? Eventually this would have gotten worked out, with the NBA having established strong independence in the process.
The NBA, its owners and players, can still make billions of dollars a year just by focusing on America. Do they really need to be in China for the league to be viable? Of course not.
If Adam Silver had pulled his teams from China and stood up for the first amendment, American values, and democracy abroad then the league would be financially weaker in the short term, but its brand, particularly on issues of social justice, would have been much stronger in the long term.
Instead, the league shut up and dribbled — playing basketball and acceding to Chinese demands not to say anything at all other than playing basketball — doing exactly what LeBron James said he would never do.
Going forward I don’t see any way the NBA or its players and coaches can continue to espouse political talking points and be taken seriously by anyone.
Let’s say, for instance, the Lakers win the title and refuse to go to the White House. How is the first question asked of all Laker players not this one: “But you and your teammates played at the behest of a communist dictator in China and agreed to shut up and dribble there. You bowed down to an actual dictator in exchange for cash and now you won’t meet with the democratically elected president? How can you possibly make that decision given what you did in China?”
As for team coaches like Steve Kerr and Greg Popovich, what absolute cowards these guys are. They comment on every Donald Trump Tweet, yet when their own league’s first amendment rights are challenged they shut up and said nothing at all. Hell, Kerr, despite having sent Tweets endorsing the Hong Kong protest a couple of weeks ago, even pretended that this was too complex of an issue to have an opinion on.

So in addition to being caught in a lie about his opinion here, Kerr’s also unwilling to denounce communism in favor of democracy.
Why did everyone go silent?
Because they want to make sure China’s checks don’t bounce.
Leftists love to talk about being on the wrong side of history — which is a fallacy because as any historian will tell you we often don’t know which side of history was right or wrong until generations have passed — but it is clear that democracy and the first amendment are on the right side of history already.
And Kerr came out against both this week.
Put simply, I think this week was a devastating body blow to the NBA’s woke culture. I don’t see any way the NBA could move its all start game again, for instance, if they disagree with an individual law in a state without being exposed by the public and the media.
In fact, I think this week might spell of the doom of woke sports culture over all.
Think about it, who has been the most silent during this huge story? The woke sports media who usually prop up the NBA. Rachel Nichols at ESPN compared the NBA pulling out of Charlotte over the transgender bathroom law to the Civil Rights sit-ins.
Yet she’s said nothing critical of the league during this entire process.
Almost all of your favorite left wing sports media — the same group that has ripped the NFL over Colin Kaepernick — went completely silent over this entire NBA issue.
The next time they start chirping about woke sports, I hope all of you will deluge them with why they were so silent during the NBA’s contretemps with China. And I hope you never let them forget this.
Aaron writes:
“I do not historically reach out to media members because I have better things to do; but in light of the recent NBA cowardice, I felt compelled to email you and thank you. You appear to be one of the few media members (with an actual audience) willing to call the NBA and associated members on their hypocrisy.
By way of background, the NBA is to me what SEC football is to you. I spend entirely too much time on the league.  Seriously, I’ve read the CBA and can recall mundane contract rules…I am an NBA loser.  I consider myself a Regan Democrat (I’m pretty sure Fox News denizens would call me a Coastal Elite Cuck), and while I have never loved the NBA’s self-appointed image as a “social change agent”…I understood it and figured most of it was performative.
But this China issue has me debating whether to drop the league altogether; which is something heretofore I would have never considered.  Coaches, players, the league are all being disingenuous and you concisely called them out. It’s low-hanging fruit for them to criticize Trump (his supporters don’t watch the NBA to begin with). But oh no! the moment their gross revenues are seriously threatened, they clam up.  Steve Kerr’s father was assassinated for essentially being American.  If anyone should be pro-Democratic ideals, its him. His press conferences were embarrassing.
At any rate, thanks for pointing this stuff out.  Please keep hammering this drum. I am fearful once real games begin everyone will let this quietly die on the vine.”
Yesterday on Twitter Darren Rovell asked me if I thought there would be a long range impact to the NBA from this mess.
I think it’s likely that there will be. Probably not in the hard core NBA fan demographic — which is actually pretty small — but I definitely think there might be in the casual NBA fan, the guy who comes in for the NBA playoffs and watches.
Remember, the NBA ratings domestically for the finals are down as much as half since Micheal Jordan played in the league. That is, the number of people watching the NBA Finals are down by nearly 50% during the past twenty years. That’s not happening to the NFL, which has grown its audience during that time frame. All those woke sports media members who wanted to convince you the NBA was going to take down the NFL? They had a better argument that might happen in 1998 than they did in 2018.
The NFL saw 19% of their audience vanish during the Kaepernick mess.
Could we see something similar happen with the NBA over the next couple of years? That wouldn’t shock me, honestly.
Jonathan writes:

“How would you compare this NBA-China fiasco to NFL players kneeling during the national anthem? As you have pointed out in the past, players kneeling during the anthem is bad for business because it hurts the popularity of the league in the eyes of many fans and therefore costs everyone involved money. Isn’t this the same thing with the NBA? Everyone involved with the NBA is keeping their mouths shut because it’s bad for business.

You in effect said the NFL players should shut and play and not cost themselves money. Now that’s what the NBA is doing and you’ve been highly critical of them. Could you compare these two situations?”

First, I said the NFL players protesting politics in uniform at work while the national anthem was playing was bad for business.

And I was proven right.

But the NFL actually dodged a bullet here because it could have lead to a situation where everyone started taking knees for all sorts of contentious political reasons.

The analogy I used that blows people’s minds is this one, what if Colin Kaepernick had taken a knee during our national anthem to protest gay marriage being legal? The same people defending Kaepernick to the high heavens would have demanded the NFL suspend him immediately.

Regardless of what your belief system is, I think it’s unmistakably bad for business to politicize sports because it typically leads to alienating your audience. Politicians win if they get one more vote than their opponent. Pro sports leagues need to appeal to everyone, particularly in this modern entertainment universe when everyone has so many options.

Why would you alienate anyone?

I would, and did, defend Colin Kaepernick’s right to advocate for any political issues he supports outside of work, just like I would for any player, coach or league executive. But, just as Daryl Morey found out, the first amendment doesn’t guarantee that your political speech frees you from the consequences of that political speech. The more outspoken you are the more prepared you have to be for there to be consequences for that commentary.

I’m very outspoken with my opinions, but if I were an executive working for a sports team or league, I’d never say or do anything remotely controversial, especially not relating to politics.

Now on to the NBA.

I can’t speak for everyone, but if the NBA had never attempted to become a woke league and been praised for the left wing political activism of their coaches, players, and league executives then I wouldn’t consider what’s happening in China to be that big of an issue.
Honestly, if you’re straightforward about the fact that your goal is to make as much money as possible for your business, I’m fine with that because I’m a capitalist.
If your goal is just to pursue the largest profits your business can make, then so long as you stay within the law, go after it.
But that’s not what the NBA has been trying to do. It has been lecturing us on what political opinions we should have. Whether it’s the transgender bathroom bill or the removal of the word owner because it’s racially insensitive or players and coaches constantly hectoring us about Donald Trump and why he’s evil, the NBA has attempted to use its business platform to harangue us about its league, player and coach politics.
So when this situation with China happened that was the background.
Either be super woke or don’t be super woke, either be a money-obsessed corporation or don’t.
The NBA, when push came to shove, proved what its true colors were — all that mattered was the money, nothing else.
It’s easy to be outspoken on politics when there are no consequences, but the minute you face threats to your money, you run and hide.
That’s why I think the NBA’s week was so awful, the very essence of its brand was destroyed in seven days.
Jonathan writes:
“China has historically demanded changes to media within their borders with many changes made to movies and TV in order to be shown there. 
However with the recent NBA controversy, China is now attempting to influence media/products in the United States and other countries that do business with them.
Do you think now that China knows how much power they wield they will continue to use it to demand changes to products outside their borders. Will textbook manufacturers have to delete references to Tiananmen square in United States textbooks or will Facebook delete pro hong kong content posted by Americans in America in order to gain access to the Chinese market? In order for Disney to release Black Panther 2 or Avengers 5 in China, will Disney have to add a Chinese character who spouts pro chinese propaganda to all releases worldwide of the film? Am I just being paranoid or now that China knows they can make multi-billion dollar corporations bend the knee will they continue to use that power?”
This is a great question that I believe speaks to the biggest issue at play here.
China has moved beyond demanding changes inside their borders to arguing for changes in world decision-making predicated on Chinese ideals. 
That’s an important distinction here that I think many have missed. What China was demanding of the NBA was it apologize for an American employee violating Chinese ideals.
And the NBA did it!
The NBA apologized for an American endorsing democracy.
The NBA’s argument for why it’s important for them to be in China — leaving aside the money part, which is the real reason — is that the cultural exchange of ideas will lead to a greater global relationship between China and the United States.
In other words that basketball is a uniting force of goodwill.
But that’s really about America exporting its cultural values, at least in some ways, to China. What happens when China exports its cultural values back to us, especially if those values are in direct conflict with American values? There’s a big difference between making edits to your products in order to reach the Chinese markets and making changes in America based on Chinese concerns.
And I think what we’ve started to see is China exerting its influence beyond Chinese borders and making demands upon American companies that are fundamentally in conflict with American values, and in many cases, American laws.
That’s, to me, why this story is so important.
Brad writes:
“How concerned should I be that the leaders of the two most powerful countries on the planet, the United States and China, get their panties in a wad over what’s said on Twitter?
Causes of World Wars:
WW I- assassination of Archduke Ferdinand 
WW II- bombing of Pearl Harbor (for US involvement)
WW III- a tweet made me mad
What a strange era of geopolitical issues…”
Very concerned.
People care way too much about what gets Tweeted in general.
So does the media.
It’s really a total mess.
Joe writes:
“Is it possible for you to get into Lebron presser and ask him how he feels about how his shoes are made overseas, and if he can demand his shoes be made in the US. Basically ask the hard questions.”
I’d love for LeBron to actually have to answer real questions for once in his life, but that’s never going to happen.
His people protect him from being exposed.
I said earlier this week that if LeBron really wanted to be his generation’s Muhammad Ali he’d endorse democracy in for the 1.4 billion people in China.
But he won’t do that.
Because that would actually put his pocketbook at risk.
And so far he’s been entirely unwilling to do anything that actually risks taking money out of his pocket.
LeBron’s entire “equality” brand is, quite honestly, a complete fraud.
….
Thanks for reading and hope all of you have a great weekend.
I’ll be on Laura Ingraham’s Fox News show tonight talking these issues and then I’m headed down to the beach for the rest of the weekend.
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