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Explainer: Why China won’t televise NBA games this year

It's about politics, not about COVID-19

This Tuesday, China’s CCTV posted a statement on Weibo saying the organisation will not show the NBA 20/21 season, even after games are resumed.

The post said:

“[CCTV] refutes rumours that it would restore streaming NBA games, reiterating its consistent stance on national sovereignty. CCTV suspended streaming NBA games in Oct 2019 after Houston Rockets Daryl Morey’s tweet in support of Hong Kong rioters.”

So, what does this mean for Chinese basketball fans? And what has been the fallout? Let me break it down for you.

What is ‘CCTV’ and why does NBA matter in China?

CCTV does not mean what you think, probably. It’s not a security camera. It is the China Central Television (CCTV), the state-owned television network which shows a variety of programs such as news, documentary drama and, of course, sports.

US basketball is extremely popular in China. About 800 million Chinese watch NBA during the season from October to June.

Now, China will not be televising any of it.

So why is this happening?

This all started when Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted in support of anti-government protesters in Hong Kong on Oct 4 last year during the NBA preseason. His original tweet included an image captioned: “Fight For Freedom. Stand With Hong Kong.”

The former British colony, now a Special Administrative Region of China, has been shaken by months of political unrest and excessive violence between citizen and police and concerns over Chinese power in Hong Kong. Allegedly, people has been arrested over freedom of speech.

In response to the Daryl’s tweet, on October 6 CCTV and the livestreaming platform Tencent Sports announced that they would no longer broadcast Rockets games. CCTV posted on Weibo that they follow Chinese government’s policy on Hong Kong.

“CCTV Sports Channel has had no contact and interaction with the NBA. When it comes to issues about China’s sovereignty, the CCTV Sports Channel’s position is solemn, clear and consistent, and there will be no room for ambiguity or flexibility,” it said.

What does the NBA say?

The NBA commissioner, Adam Silver, published a statement on October 8 saying that he won’t censor players or team owners over China or other issues.

“I do know there are consequences from freedom of speech; we will have to live with those consequences,” he told reporters in Tokyo. “For those who question our motivation, this is about far more than growing our business.”

This Monday, NBA announced Michael Ma as the NBA’s new China CEO, the first native Chinese person to lead the organisation in the Beijing office since its 2008 establishment. He previously worked within NBA for 13 years in various capacities, ESPN reported.

Ma will “fully manage the league’s basketball development and business development in China”, the announcement said, and will be responsible for “further enhancing the popularity of basketball and the NBA in China with the support of the NBA’s senior management team in China”.

Could hiring Michael Ma be a solution to the conflict?

In short, no. Because this is the response by the state-run news outlet Global Times.

“Naming [a] native Chinese as NBA China boss is ‘not enough’. Prominent commentators and fans noted if it wants to win its way back to the Chinese mainland market, it should properly handle Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey,” CNN reported.


Photo: Basketball hoop by Markus Spiske from Pexels

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