NBA’s China tip-off to go ahead amid growing backlash

The intense Chinese backlash against the NBA over its attitudes on free speech and Hong Kong’s democracy movement has thrown the games into doubt. Above, Chinese fans wait for Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers players on Wednesday, October 9. (AP)
Updated 11 October 2019

NBA’s China tip-off to go ahead amid growing backlash

  • Intense Chinese backlash against the NBA over its attitudes on free speech and Hong Kong’s democracy movement
  • Controversy was sparked by a since-deleted tweet from Rockets general manager Daryl Morey supporting pro-democracy protesters

BEIJING: The National Basketball Association (NBA) is pressing ahead with an exhibition game on Thursday in Shanghai, despite a Chinese backlash against the league after a Houston Rockets executive’s tweet supporting pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

The NBA on Thursday published a post on Chinese social networking platform Weibo promoting the match between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Brooklyn Nets, accompanied by a short clip featuring star players LeBron James and Kyrie Irving.

The game is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. (1130 GMT).

NBA events scheduled on Tuesday and Wednesday were canceled and Chinese sponsors and partners suspended or severed ties with the league after Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted last week supporting anti-government protests in Chinese-ruled Hong Kong.

The NBA said in an email on Thursday that players and personnel would not be made available to the media. The league had scheduled a briefing before and after the game, and NBA commissioner Adam Silver had been expected to address the media.

State broadcaster CCTV and Tencent will not show Thursday’s game or the rematch scheduled for Saturday in Shenzhen on their platforms, underscoring the severity of the backlash.

The Hong Kong protests began in opposition to a bill allowing extradition to mainland China but have since evolved into broader calls for democracy. China has accused the West of stirring up anti-Beijing sentiment in Hong Kong, and Chinese state media has characterized Morey’s tweet as the latest example of meddling in China’s own affairs.

Silver spoke out in support of Morey’s freedom of expression on Tuesday, further angering Beijing. The NBA’s business in China, which took years to cultivate and is estimated to be worth more than $4 billion, is under immense pressure.

The NBA did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether Saturday’s Lakers-Nets game would take place.

Houston Rockets sneakers and other merchandise were pulled from several Nike and NBA stores in major Chinese cities, with the franchise’s direct association with Morey making it a central target of the furor. Managers at some of the Nike stores said they had been instructed to remove the goods via an internal memo from management.

A specialist NBA store at a major shopping center in Shanghai removed all Rockets merchandise, as did the basketball-themed NBA Playzone family entertainment centers in Beijing and Shanghai.

“Rockets products were hot before and when you stepped into the store, it was full of red. Now, it is mostly yellow and blue,” the colors of the Golden State Warriors, said a manager at the Shanghai Playzone, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Nike and the NBA did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment.

Other major Chinese retailers, including Alibaba and JD.com, also pulled Rockets merchandise off their various platforms. Alibaba and JD.com declined to comment.

Chinese state and party-backed media continued to publish items critical of the NBA. The official English China Daily published an editorial cartoon on Thursday playing on the NBA’s official logo of an athlete dribbling a basketball. The cartoon instead put a bomb labelled “politics” in the athlete’s hand, leaving the basketball fallen by the wayside.

Some Chinese also called on those attending Thursday’s game to carry the Chinese flag into the stadium in a demonstration of patriotic solidarity.

“Those going to watch the game live, remember to bring the national flag,” one user wrote on Weibo. “Hope to see a sea of red, five-starred red flag fluttering in the wind.”


Riyadh route revealed for inaugural Saudi Tour cycling event

Updated 24 January 2020

Riyadh route revealed for inaugural Saudi Tour cycling event

  • The race, will begin at the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee headquarters on Feb. 4 and end on Feb. 8 at Al-Masmak Fort

RIYADH: The Saudi Cycling Federation on Thursday revealed the full route for next month’s inaugural Saudi Tour event in Riyadh.

The 755 kilometer race, which is split into five daily stages, will begin at the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee headquarters on Feb. 4 and end on Feb. 8 at Al-Masmak Fort. Along the way, the competitors will pass many Riyadh landmarks, including Sadus Castle, Wadi Namar Park and Al-Bujairi historical district.

Eighteen teams from 13 countries will compete, and the riders include Mark Cavendish from the UK, Frenchman Nacer Bouhanni and Dutch cyclist Niki Terpstra.

Subah Al-Kraidees, chairman of the Saudi Cycling Federation, said he is delighted that the Kingdom is hosting a major Union Cycliste Internationale cycling event for the first time.

“I am so proud that the Saudi Cycling Federation is able to see one of its dreams realized with this event, and to have Saudi Arabia recognized as an important station in the international biking scene,” he said. “This is a great opportunity for Saudi athletes to rub shoulders with international bikers, and to see what they have achieved and learn from their experiences.”

The Saudi Tour will be broadcast worldwide by 25 TV networks, six of whom will also live stream the event.

Three other events will take place on the sidelines of the main race: a public bike ride from noon to 12:45 p.m. on Feb. 6, a junior race on the same day from 1 p.m. to 2.40 p.m., and a women’s ride from 12.30 p.m. to 1.30 p.m. on Feb. 8.

You can find more details of the event and broadcast schedules, and track the teams and their race times, at www.thesauditour.com.