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The NBA’s China Problem: Everything You Need To Know

Last Updated on 2022/03/09

According to Adam Silver, NBA commissioner, one of the toughest challenges he faced in his career was dealing with China. China is a significant partner for the NBA. You might have heard of the numerous NBA players having shoe deals and the league having a considerable TV presence in the country.

However, in 2021, a few disturbances resulted in some online commentary about an issue associated with China. Though Silver garrisoned the NBA’s approach to China recently, people are really concerned about what is happening with the NBA and China.

NBA and China: What Really is the Problem?

The NBA’s close-knit relationship with China has once again become a problem, affecting NBA betting lines across the world.

According to a Reuters report, the US congressional commission has asked NBA players to terminate endorsements with Chinese sportswear brands that are thought to add to the forced labor camps in the region of Xinjiang.

The commission even went as far as warning the players that engagement in financial relationships with brands like Anta, Li-Ning, and Peak will lead to their NBA images getting hurt.

The US government had previously pointed fingers at China for committing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang. In fact, China is widely believed to have forced the Muslim community into forced labor and re-education camps (which are basically “concentration camps”) ever since 2018.

China has always been a significant player in the NBA arena outside the United States. The country is also one of the largest markets for the event, and well, almost everything.

Basketball fans across China consider LeBron James, Michael Jordan, and Kobe Bryant as godly figures. Over the past few years, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Michael Jordan have ensured that the NBA enjoys excellent growth in China over the last few decades.

The relationship was first strained in 2019 when Houston Rockets GM Darryl Morey commented on supporting democracy in Hong Kong. During this time, there also rose riots and protests against Chinese controls that overreached into the politics in Hong Kong. China’s response to this issue was by pulling NBA games off its state television.


NBA players and the league itself were making a lot of money due to the sports popularity in China. But now that has changed. Though the government isn’t mandating players to be aware of the forced labor camps, it will be pretty interesting to see how things come out. Mainly since the NBA has earned a reputation for being a political major sports league in the United States.

The NBA’s Relationship with China

The top advantage of the NBA’s relationship with China is relatively simple—Money. As the NBA is an immensely popular event in China, its market has been giving the game and its brand exposure to billions of potential customers.

On the other hand, the disadvantage is that the NBA positions itself as a socially conscious league. Therefore, it has always strived to claim to support social justice domestically. When Daryl Morey supported the protestors in Hong Kong through a tweet on Twitter, the reaction from the Chinese was swift and brutal.

According to Vox, the Chinese Basketball Association seems to have ended all relations with the Houston Rockets. The Chinese consulate in Houston even reproved the GM. However, the NBA supported China’s party line, driving Morey to apologize and calling his statement “regrettable.” Furthermore, even LeBron James didn’t forget to criticize Morey for the timing of his statement.

China definitely is a country that has recently been brimming with issues of censorship and human rights violations. Though the NBA hasn’t necessarily criticized them for their perceived criticism, it still creates a perception of hypocrisy, no matter which way people see it

How are NBA Players Profiting Off the Relationship With China?

Even though their NBA playing days have ceased, a lot of NBA players these days try to enrich their basketball careers in numerous ways. For instance, Jeremy Lin used to play in the Chinese Basketball Association. His career seemed to experience a renaissance after he received limited interest from NBA teams.

Similarly, Stephon Marbury prolonged his career playing in China, rising in popularity there and thereby enjoying massive success. What’s more, James Harden, the current superstar, has also expressed his support for China soon after the Morey kerfuffle.

What we know for sure is that the issue is quite complex, and it isn’t going to end any time soon. What’s of importance now is that, whether the problem exists or not, the NBA will continue to passively influence China. They will achieve this by being the “exported of American value” to the country. So, Silver thinks that they will have to search for another way on others’ problems in the interim.

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