On Thursday, a Houston Rockets media relations official cut off a reporter’s questions to NBA stars James Harden and Russell Westbrook during a growing controversy involving the NBA and China.
Alykhan Bijani, a Houston Rockets reporter for The Athletic, posted a video on Twitter of CNN’s Christina Macfarlane probing Harden and Westbrook. She asked them specifically if they “would feel differently about speaking out” about foreign policy issues in the future because of the backlash they received this week. Numerous NBA players and coaches appeared distraught when answering China-related questions, which President Trump correctly attacked them for.
Although Harden and Westbrook looked like they were ready to awkwardly respond to the journalist’s questions, the spokesperson intervened immediately and informed Macfarlane that only basketball questions were going to be allowed. The spokesperson added that the question was already answered earlier this week, which provoked a response from Macfarlane saying that it was a “legitimate question.”
The NBA-China drama started when Rockets general manager Daryl Morey made a tweet in support of protesters in Hong Kong. This topic has been occupying Harden’s attention throughout the week and he claims that Morey’s tweet hasn’t been a distraction, according to a report from The Athletic.
“It’s not a distraction,” Harden said Tuesday. “We’re focusing on our team and getting better. We’re glad to see Russ [Westbrook] back out there on the basketball court. Our sole focus is on the Rockets and how we can get better every single day.”
Harden apologized to China for Morey’s tweet earlier this week.
“We apologize. You know, we love China. We love playing there. For both of us, individually, we go there once or twice a year. They show us the most important love,” he stated. “We appreciate them as a fan base. We love everything there about them, and we appreciate the support that they give us individually and as [an] organization.”
In Thursday’s news conference, Macfarlane also asked coach Mike D’Antoni if he had anything to say to Chinese fans who may have been disappointed by the NBA’s response to Morey’s tweet.
“You know what, it’s a tough situation,” D’Antoni claimed. “It’s very difficult. Adam Silver speaks for the NBA. I work for the NBA. I go with Adam…Commissioner Silver will do the right thing. You can’t answer questions like that because you’re wrong no matter what. I’m here to speak basketball. Talk basketball. Whatever I say is not right…I coach basketball, I’m not a diplomat or around the world.”
The NBA’s recent drama goes beyond a corporate messaging squabble. It raises questions about the influence China potentially has over U.S. corporations, and by extension, U.S. culture.
China recently celebrated the 70th anniversary of its modern-day founding, which has been filled with mass murder and totalitarianism. Although, the country made pragmatic economic reforms in the 1980s, it still lags behind in terms of political reforms. Additionally, China’s trade practices raise questions about its faithfulness to international law and its overall intentions as a geopolitical actor.
For that reason, Donald Trump’s election has made America reconsider U.S.-China trade relations and find a way to reform trade between the two countries so that both countries benefit and not have to worry about the unintended consequences of poorly-constructed trade deals.
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