NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said a now-deleted tweet from October 2019 has cost the league “hundreds of millions of dollars” in revenue.
But free speech, according to Silver, is something you can’t truly put a price on.
Adam Silver says free speech outweighs financial loss
It all started when Daryl Morey — general manager for the Houston Rockets at the time — tweeted an image with a graphic and six words:
FIGHT FOR FREEDOM STAND WITH HONG KONG
His tweet came about five months after hundreds of thousands of people began storming Hong Kong streets in protests of a bill that would allow extradition from Hong Kong to mainland China.
Chinese Central Television (CCTV), the country’s government-run network, quickly retaliated with an 18-month blackout of NBA games. In fact, the ban only just ended this March 29, when CCTV aired the live broadcast of the L.A. Clippers’ 121-115 win over the Utah Jazz.
Silver supports sports as a platform
Silver initially criticized Morey’s tweet in 2019 before shifting to his current position of support. In a press conference ahead of the NBA Finals, he regarded the league’s business with China in a positive light.
He said the NBA had an “essentially 35-year” relationship with CCTV. And exporting the league’s product to China while still allowing freedom of expression ultimately conveys a constructive message.
“My position is — said this many times — that I think engagement is positive, particularly through sports. I think to keep people safe and prosperous that using sports as a platform to keep people around the world talking is critically important. At the same time, I don’t think it’s inconsistent with our values for our game to be broadcast in China and 200-plus other countries in the world.”
Silver said the league accepts the financial hit that came with Morey’s tweet, adding:
“We accept that, and I said that at the time when we said we stand behind our players and team executives, their right to free expression, whether about issues in the United States or issues any place in the world, if those are the consequences, that’s what I mean that our values travel with us.”
Morey has since become the president of the Philadelphia 76ers, suggesting that his outspoken nature ultimately paid off — for him, at least.
When it comes to the NBA, only time will tell how the decision affects them in the long run.
Silver talks Britney Griner
Silver also discussed WNBA star Brittney Griner at the June 2 press conference.
The six-foot-nine Phoenix Mercury center has now been illegally detained in Russia for more than 130 days. Griner was arrested at Sheremetyevo Airport, near Moscow, on Feb. 17 for allegedly carrying marijuana vape cartridges in her luggage.
Silver said the league is “working in lockstep” with the government to help bring the 31-year-old home.
“I think it’s something that all of us should be heard on, contacting your representative and others. We are working in lockstep with the U.S. government and outside experts on trying to expedite her release in any way we can. Certainly, our hearts go out to her and her family and we’re just eager for her safe return.”
NBA action on social justice issues
Silver alluded to social justice issues early on in the press conference, saying:
“One of the things I want to make sure I touch on today, of course, although we are here to play basketball, seemingly we can’t escape from a very polarized society and those issues — whether it be guns, most recently LGBTQ issues, you name it — [are] societal issues that are just part of this league and have been part of the DNA of this league for a long time.”
He also mentioned the league has formed an NBA Foundation and social justice coalition. The hope is to help “move the ball forward in a collective manner” — a plan that appears to be working thus far.
NBA Finals viewership increased over 30% this year, though the league still struggles to match numbers from 2019 and before.
WNBA viewership, on the other hand, has yet to reach its peak. Moreover, the 2022 WNBA season is just heating up, with Playoffs beginning Aug. 17 and Finals taking place in mid-September.