Woke NBA coach Steve Kerr: Lemme get back to you on this whole "China violating human rights" thing

It is passing strange that this outspoken figure, normally so willing and able to comment on injustices in the United States, has no thoughts whatsoever on Hong Kong’s uprising. He was asked for comment last night and … total blank:


It’s not as if Kerr doesn’t keep up on current events, or as if western media hasn’t covered Hong Kong, or as if the NBA has no presence in China that might make major political developments there of some interest to him.

Somehow this issue ended up in his blind spot.

Does he have any thoughts generally about how China does or doesn’t respect human rights? For instance, here’s a wacky fact that I didn’t know until today but which Kerr, an NBA coach, might be aware of. Not only does the NBA have a cozy relationship with Chinese totalitarians, it’s so cozy that the league operates a training center in Xinjiang province — the same place where China is interning millions of Uighur Muslims. That’s a bit like staging a hoops barnstorming tour of Poland circa 1944. Slate wrote about it last year:

Operating in such a place seems antithetical to the public stance of a league that has recently gone out of its way to tout its progressive, social-justice bona fides. After the Trump travel ban targeting seven Muslim-majority nations, prominent NBA figures took the side of the critics. League commissioner Adam Silver took the unusual step of criticizing the ban, saying “it goes against the fundamental values and the fundamental ingredients of what makes for a great NBA.” Detroit Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy compared the ban to Hitler registering the Jews.

NBA stars like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony have condemned police violence and racism in the United States, while players and executives have protested the Trump administration’s separation of immigrant children from their parents. According to his LinkedIn page, the NBA executive George Land oversees the Xinjiang training center. On Twitter, Land’s most recent activity is a retweet of the MSNBC host Chris Hayes condemning the U.S. separation of thousands of mothers from their children. But what about Xinjiang? Thousands of Uighur children are reportedly languishing in orphanages, awaiting their parents’ release from the concentration camps. The NBA didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment for this story. Nor did Land. Nor did China’s foreign ministry.


I ask this in all seriousness: Have any NBA players or personnel toured a Chinese, ahem, “detention facility” as part of the league’s charm offensive towards Beijing?

We’re not going to see an old photo emerge of Kerr and, say, Steph Curry standing outside barbed wire smiling and giving a thumbs-up, are we?

You’ll be pleased to know that the visceral disgust which the Daryl Morey episode has evoked in Americans of all stripes is putting pressure on the league. Adam Silver issued a statement last night affirming that the NBA respects Morey’s right to his opinion, which I assume is a nudge to the Rockets not to fire him as GM in order to placate China. Whether Silver would have felt so strongly about Morey’s rights had there been no bipartisan domestic backlash I leave for you to surmise.

Note the last paragraph about basketball being a unifying force. Once upon a time, the argument in favor of U.S. corporate outreach to China was that our values would gradually infect them and transform their culture. How’s that infect-and-transform dynamic working out in the context of the Morey episode, do you think?

Anyway, is Silver’s statement good enough for China? He’s giving them nearly everything they want here. With the eyes of international media upon him and Americans hooting at him to defend western liberalism, he’s offered not a word of support for Hong Kong here nor a word of criticism for China. But maybe that’s not good enough: News broke this morning that Chinese state TV and the local digital carrier have suspended coverage of the NBA preseason to protest Morey’s comments. The clash of civilizations doesn’t get any starker than this quote:


“I think as a values-based organization that I want to make it clear … that Daryl Morey is supported in terms of his ability to exercise his freedom of expression,” Silver said in an interview with Kyodo News in Tokyo Japan.

CCTV did not agree with Silver’s remarks.

“We are strongly dissatisfied and we oppose Silver’s claim to support Morey’s right of free expression. We believe that any speech that challenges national sovereignty and social stability is not within the scope of freedom of speech,” CCTV said in its statement in Chinese, which was translated by CNBC.

One of the key points in this dispute (as well as the subject of last week’s now-famous “South Park” episode) is the west tacitly agreeing to impose Chinese censorship standards on its own corporate culture in exchange for access to China’s humongous market. Silver’s trying to adjust the terms of that devil’s bargain here — the league won’t criticize China if it decides it wants to start feeding the Uighurs into a wood-chipper, say, but it’s also not going to censor its own personnel who might have a problem with it. Go figure that that’s not good enough for a totalitarian state. In China, when a subordinate makes trouble for the leadership, he’s dealt with. Silver is refusing to punish Morey. Ergo, the whole league must be punished by losing its preseason TV coverage.

That’s one part of what’s driving the outrage, a growing awareness among Americans that China’s illiberal views on freedom of thought are leaking into corporate America via executives’ bank accounts. The NBA isn’t the worst offender but it may be the most visible one. It’s one thing to have some faceless Facebook PR apparatchik issue a statement that’s soft on China, it’s another to watch James farking Harden reassure China that he loves the country after his GM offered the tiniest gesture of support for Hong Kong protesters. What’s especially galling is that people of wealth and influence enjoy a freedom to dissent that the average wage slave can only dream of. If you work at a Chinese-owned factory in the midwest for 20 bucks an hour, your thoughts on Hong Kong may affect whether you can put food on the table. If you’re James Harden or Adam Silver, you don’t have that problem. Except you do, apparently — maybe more so than the factory worker because so much money is at stake. It takes a lot of dough to buy global silence on concentration camps but the Chinese have figured it out.


Inescapably, though, some of the outrage at the NBA is a simple matter of contempt for their hypocrisy. As many others have noted over the past 36 hours, the league is known for — and celebrates — its wokeness. People like Kerr and Gregg Popovich are beloved figures among sports-loving liberals for their willingness to chime in on matters of social justice, and have received glowing coverage in the press for it. I don’t begrudge them their greater interest in American injustices than Chinese mass oppression either; it’s natural to worry more about how your friends are being mistreated than people a world away. But that rule of thumb isn’t foolproof: Surely we can agree that once the level of foreign oppression reaches the concentration-camp stage, some reflection on whether you should continue to do business there while ignoring what’s happening is in order. And yet here’s Steve Kerr, the woke coach, playing dumb right in front of reporters.

What we’re learning, in other words, is that most or all of these “outspoken” A-holes are quivering frauds when speaking up might cost them something instead of earning them another sweetheart post on Deadspin or wherever.


Frauds. Next time they to purport to you lecture you about your flaccid social-justice conscience, ask them if they’ve been to the new training facility in Xinjiang yet. Exit question: Could the Rockets maybe offer to have Morey summarily execute this guy as a goodwill gesture to China?

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