The Brooklyn Nets won the Los Angeles Lakers 114-111. But the result was the least, and not because it was an exhibition match. The important thing is that they will play. The meeting between the two teams at the Mercedes Benz Arena in Shanghai was about not to be played as a result of the anger of China towards the NBA so it started being a personal tweet supporting protesters in Hong Kong and that it has become a crisis around freedom of expression.
Every year, NBA franchises travel to China to promote themselves in what is one of their most lucrative markets: almost 500 million people, a third of the population, saw some of the US league matches this year. The NBA began to build ties with this country in the 1990s, when it was still difficult to predict the great economic explosion of the current second power. Few athletes reach the worship that lies ahead Michael Jordan – and, by extension, the Chicago Bulls of that era – among the Chinese public. That the most famous Chinese center in history, Yao Ming, signed for the Houston Rockets in 2002 only intensified the love story of fans of this country for the American competition.
But last Friday's tweet by Daryl Morey, the Houston Rockets general manager – "Fight for freedom, supports Hong Kong" – has triggered a deeply visceral and nationalist rejection reaction between fans and Chinese authorities.
After the president of the NBA, Adam Silver, make clear this organization's support for freedom of expression, and state television announced that it would not broadcast the exhibition matches, expressions of repulsion have multiplied. In Beijing, the official NBA store, usually crowded, barely had customers these days. Rockets' products had also disappeared from Nike stores, according to Reuters.
In China’s social networks, calls to bring flags of China and banners with patriotic messages to the party had multiplied. Some were photographed with their broken tickets. Others, breaking the shirt of his team. "I am fond of basketball, but first of all I am Chinese," is the message that was repeated again and again on Weibo, the equivalent of Twitter on social networks in this country.
The media amplified the message. “We express strong discontent and objection to Adam Silver's support for freedom of expression. Opinions that challenge sovereignty and social stability cannot be part of freedom of expression, ”the Chinese state television, CCTV, said in a statement announcing that it would not broadcast NBA parties. The newspaper China Daily He stressed that “Western countries also have limitations in their freedom of expression” when it comes to exalting terrorism or racism. "We respect it as the lines that should not be crossed in freedom of expression in Western societies, and we hope that the West also respects our lines that cannot be crossed," he added.
As announced, the game was not broadcast on Chinese television. Tencent, the Chinese Internet giant, also did not show it on any of its platforms. The sponsors shone by his absence. A day earlier, the employees of the pavilion had removed all publicity alluding to the meeting. The posters had also disappeared from the vicinity of the hotels where the two teams were staying, which are scheduled to meet again this Saturday in Shenzhen, a border city with Hong Kong.
The Chinese sports authorities recommended suspending the press wheels planned with both teams and that of the NBA president, Adam Silver, presumably for fear of statements that will further stoke the bonfire of the crisis. Two other previous events of interaction between the teams and the Chinese public had been canceled the day before.
Finally, the match in Shanghai went smoothly. Inside the pavilion there was no evidence of the controversy. The friendly developed smoothly, except for the injury of Kyrie Irving, who received a blow to the face in the first minute and no longer played again. Dinwiddie, with 20 points, and Prince, with 18, forged the victory of the Brooklyn against Lakers led by Lebron James, with 20, and Rondo, with 18. The stands were filled with almost 16,000 spectators who supported both teams enthusiastically. An indication, perhaps, that the idyll is not finished. And that after allowing the mood to cool for a while, the NBA and Chinese fans will continue their love story in the future.