Over the weekend, Chinese state television attacked NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, threatening retribution for what it claimed was a lie. Last week Silver claimed the Chinese government had asked him to fire Rockets general manager Daryl Morey over his tweet about Hong Kong:
The Chinese government asked the N.B.A. to fire a team executive who posted on social media in support of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, the league’s commissioner, Adam Silver, said on Thursday in his first public appearance in the United States since returning from a contentious trip to Asia.
“We said there’s no chance that’s happening,” Silver said. “There’s no chance we’ll even discipline him.”
China denied having made that request on Friday and on Saturday, state TV said his statement was a lie and that he had crossed a line:
“Silver has spared no effort to portray himself as a fighter for free speech and used freedom of speech as an excuse to cover for Morey, who voiced his support for the violent actors in Hong Kong,” it said. “This has crossed the bottom line of the Chinese people.”
Silver’s handling of the controversy had proved his “double standards”, the broadcaster said, adding that he had “defamed” China on the international stage.
“To please some American politicians, Silver has fabricated lies out of nothing and has sought to paint China as unforgiving,” it said.
The way in which the NBA boss had defended Morey showed he had “problems in his character”, the report said, adding that he “will receive retribution sooner or later”.
The NY Times reports that Chinese state TV also reinforced the official position on free speech, which is that it’s not to be used willy nilly: “Freedom of speech does not mean that it can be arbitrary nonsense.”
It’s funny that the Chinese see Silver as a great defender of free speech because his reaction to this entire episode has been less than inspiring. Granted, Silver has defended free speech in principle but he also seems to have muzzled most of his outspoken players and coaches who have suddenly had nothing but nothing to say about the underlying issue except that they need to educate themselves on China’s history.
In fact, LeBron James’ comment about the free speech last week could have been dropped into the state TV commentary on Adam Silver: “…just be careful what we tweet, what we say, what we do. Even though yes, we do have freedom of speech, there can be a lot of negative that comes from that.” In other words, no arbitrary nonsense!
This report is more than 18 months old but it shows the desire to limit free speech isn’t limited to China or woke NBA stars these days. I suspect these student protesters think they support free speech too, just not when it harms the collective good. That’s exactly what Chinese state TV is saying.