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No protests but NBA's rift with China remains

October 10, 2019

Despite some fears of protest, or even cancellation, the NBA's preseason match in Shanghai went ahead on Thursday. Brooklyn Nets beat Los Angeles Lakers but there was plenty of political intrigue away from the court.

NBA China Games 2019 | Los Angeles Lakers vs Brooklyn Nets
Image: Getty Images/L. Zhang

While the match went ahead as planned, neither national anthem was played beforehand, and no players addressed the crowd before tip-off in a break with tradition before such international games.

Relations between America's professional basketball league and China have been tense in recent days after a statement from NBA Commissioner Adam Silver defending free speech offended many in China in the light of the protests in Hong Kong.

"It is inevitable that people around the world, including from America and China, will have different viewpoints over different issues," Silver's message read. "It is not the role of the NBA to adjudicate those differences."

On Thursday, as the Nets beat the Lakers 114-11 in the preseason tour contest, many fans were handed small Chinese flags to carry with them inside, and at least one person carried a sign critical of Silver, according to press agencies.

A fan holds a Chinese flag at the game
A fan holds a Chinese flag at the gameImage: Getty Images/L. Zhang

The NBA has faced a massive fallout from Chinese sponsors and fans after Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey also got involved. He tweeted, and then deleted, his support for the anti-government protests in Hong Kong. Morey has since apologized.

An NBA fan event was subsequently cancelled on Wednesday and news conferences and media sessions were canned on Thursday while Chinese state broadcaster CCTV said they would not show the game.

"There will be no media availabilities for tonight's game between the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers," the NBA said in a statement Thursday, released a few hours before the game.

The NBA has used preseason tours to China in order to try and increase sponsorship and tighten business ties between the countries, but recent developments have cast a shadow over such aims. 
mp (Reuters, AP)