American basketball in the Chinese trap

A Houston team leader's tweet about the popular protest in Hong Kong offended China, a colossal market for the NBA. The North American Basketball League apologized.

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Daryl Morey, General Manager Rockets, Houston, Texas, December 2018. USA TODAY USPW

The all-powerful NBA, the American professional basketball association, is in turn caught in the turmoil of the political crisis that is shaking Hong Kong, but also in the Sino-US rivalries. At the origin of the "drama", the publication, Friday, October 4, by Daryl Morey, general manager of the Texan Houston Rockets team of a tweet supporting the protest movement in Hong Kong. As always, Chinese social networks went wild throughout the weekend. On Monday, China's state-run CCTV TV announced that it would no longer broadcast the matches of this team and sponsors threatened to cancel their contracts.

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The sensitivity of the Chinese, big fans of American basketball, is all the stronger in this case that it is in Houston that played during ten years one of their stars, Yao Ming, a giant of 2.29 meters.

Daryl Morey was able to remove his tweet and apologize, nothing has done. From Japan where the Rockets are on tour, another star James Harden is on Monday, at the niche: " We apologize. We love China. We like to play there, " did he declare. In a threatening tweet, Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the nationalist daily Global Times estimate that "Daryl Morey is not qualified to be the general manager of the Houston Rockets. Economic and cultural entities engaging in cross-border operations must be careful in expressing opinions in sensitive cases. "

The NBA, in turn, attempted on Monday, October 7, to extinguish the fire by acknowledging that Mr. Morey had "Offended our friends and fans in China, which is unfortunate". According to Wall Street Journal, the North American league has recently signed a streaming deal with the Chinese giant Tencent, which would involve $ 1.5 billion (about 1.3 billion euros) until 2025.

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But NBA excuses put some Americans uncomfortable. "China is trying to use the power of its market to silence critics," reacted on Monday the Democratic nomination candidate for the 2020 presidential election and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. "Human rights should not be for sale and the NBA should not support Chinese Communist censorship," for its part, tweeted the former Republican Senator Ted Cruz, referring to a "Ashamed backpedaling ".

This controversy comes as, for its part, President Donald Trump has blacklisted twenty-eight Chinese technology companies including Hikvision, Megvii Technology and SenseTime because of their involvement in the repression in Xinjiang, this region to the north -west of China where at least one million Muslims appear to be still held in camps.

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The two cases are more related than they appear. In 2018, the NBA was indeed very proud to announce the signing with the Xinjiang authorities of an "NBA Academy" to train 120 boys and 120 girls, future "basketball elite" of this region. The latest news, Donald Trump did not intend to blacklist the NBA.


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