Chinese people tell NBA: freedom of speech isn't an excuse to insult
Note: The following article is taken from a Chinese-language commentary by China Central Television.
The recent remarks made on Twitter by the general manager of the Houston Rockets, Daryl Morey, in support of the violent riots in Hong Kong triggered a huge row in China. The situation worsened when NBA Commissioner Adam Silver defended the remarks by claiming Morey was just exercising his "freedom of expression". But freedom of speech is not absolute: it does not include speech that challenges China's national sovereignty and social stability, and the argument provided by Morey and Silver reflects their contempt for the Chinese people.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver speaks during a welcome reception for the NBA Japan Games 2019 between the Toronto Raptors and the Houston Rockets in Tokyo, Japan, Monday, Oct. 7, 2019. [Photo: AP]
When addressing Morey's controversial tweet in Tokyo, Silver said "Values of equality, respect, and freedom of expression have long defined the NBA." But equality and respect should be reciprocal, and so far Morey hasn't shown respect for China's sovereignty and national dignity in his remarks on Hong Kong, and Silver failed to act in the spirit of equality by attempting to shield his NBA colleague from criticism.
Silver has also adopted a double standard when it comes to freedom of speech. The NBA commissioner said the league "will not put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees, and team owners say or will not say." But when the former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, Donald Sterling, made racist remarks during an argument with his girlfriend in 2014, Sterling was banned for life from the NBA, fined 2.5 million U.S. dollars, and forced to sell the team. Silver himself announced the NBA's decision on the matter. But when it comes to an abuse of China's sovereignty, Silver has chosen to adopt another standard for freedom of speech.
As the first American sports league to tap into China's market, the NBA has enjoyed great success in China over the past three decades. It's also become a bridge for communication between the people in the two countries. But those ties are now at risk, as the league's local partners, including China Media Group's CCTV Sports channel and Tencent, suspend their cooperation with the NBA.
Rome was not built in a day, but it burned in one. If the NBA wants to repair its damaged relationship with China and its legions of basketball fans, it should reflect on the disrespect it has shown towards the country's sovereignty. As China's foreign ministry spokesperson pointed out on Tuesday, "Lacking knowledge of the minds and hearts of the Chinese people while trying to build communication and cooperation won't work."