Adam Silver spoke at a TIME event today, and obviously the recent and ongoing NBA-China controversy was a topic.
Interviewer Robin Roberts asked Silver about Silver’s widely panned release, while also pressing Silver for his actual position on free speech relative to the league’s financial interests.
Silver’s stance, essentially, was that the initial league statement was misinterpreted as being sympathetic to the stance of the Chinese government, instead of the Chinese NBA fans who have now potentially lost their ability to watch the league.
The NBA’s initial statement last week used the word “regrettable,” which Silver emphasized was describing the reaction of Chinese government officials, business executives and NBA fans in China — not the content of Morey’s tweet itself. “Maybe I was trying too hard to be a diplomat,” Silver said. “I didn’t see it as my role as the commissioner of the NBA to weigh in on the substance of the protest, but to say here’s this platform” for free expression.
A follow-up statement and press conference last week in Tokyo emphasized that the NBA supported Morey. “We made clear that we were being asked to fire him, by the Chinese government, by the parties we dealt with, government and business,” Silver said. “We said there’s no chance that’s happening. There’s no chance we’ll even discipline him.” While other companies have apologized to the Chinese government for various actions, Silver noted that the NBA did not give in to China’s demands. “These American values — we are an American business — travel with us wherever we go,” Silver said. “And one of those values is free expression. We wanted to make sure that everyone understood we were supporting free expression.”
Of course, the league’s revenues stand to decline as a result, assuming China goes through with what they’re currently posturing to do. Considering it was a team executive at the root of that, it’s going to anger a lot of players; revenue decline would likely lead to a salary cap decline, despite the fact that players are already recouping less than a fair share of league revenue overall.
In any case, it’s both interesting and unsurprising that China would pressure the league to somehow have Morey fired. Obviously there was little to no chance of that happening, but that he wasn’t even disciplined is somewhat fascinating, given the blowback involved. As players told Silver in China, they believe had a player put the league in this situation, the NBA wouldn’t have any issues dealing out discipline of some kind.
The league’s opening night is next Tuesday, and from Silver’s perspective, it probably can’t arrive soon enough.