Yao Ming is the man in the middle - what's he going to do?

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver would like to have a conversation with Yao Ming. Silver’s office has reached out and he hopes a meeting can be set up, perhaps in Shanghai Wednesday.


The Los Angeles Lakers and the Brooklyn Nets are scheduled to play an exhibition game in Shanghai Thursday and then another game in Shenzhen on Saturday. Shenzhen is a southern city that neighbors Hong Kong. China state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) is refusing to broadcast both games. The decision to not broadcast the games came after Silver voiced support of Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey’s right of free speech.

“We voice our strong dissatisfaction and opposition to Adam Silver offering as an excuse the right to freedom of expression,” CCTV said in its statement announcing the cancellation of the N.B.A. broadcasts. “We believe that no comments challenging national sovereignty and social stability fall within the scope of freedom of expression.”

The NBA Commissioner expressed disappointment but also acknowledged that this is a tough issue that won’t be settled any time soon.

“I think it’s unfortunate,” Silver said. “But if that’s the consequences of us adhering to our values, we still feel it’s critically important we adhere to those values.”

Silver said that he would still travel to Shanghai on Wednesday and that it was his hope to meet with Chinese government officials to try to defuse the conflict.

“But I’m a realist as well, and I recognize that this issue may not die down so quickly,” Silver said.

I suppose that it is a better response to the whole situation between the money-grubbing NBA and the brutal communist government of China – the NBA landing on the side of free speech – than the original response by the commissioner, which was to express regret that Chinese bureaucrats were offended by an innocent tweet. How about the freedom of the Hong Kong people? You know, the ones who even carry American flags during their protests.


Will Yao Ming be able to step in and act as a mediator in this situation?

Silver said he and Yao “have been close friends since the joined the league.” He talked of finding “mutual respect for each other’s political systems and beliefs.”

Yao Ming is Chairman of the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) now, a government-directed body. Technically speaking, Yao’s stamp of approval would be on the decision to not broadcast the pre-season games. He played for the Shanghai Sharks in the CBA before being drafted by the Houston Rockets in 2002. He is punishing his former team and many Houstonians are deeply disappointed.

“There’s no question that Daryl’s tweet has hit what I would describe as a third-rail issue in China,” Silver said. “I think Yao is extremely unsettled. I’m not quite sure he accepts how we are operating our business right now.”

How we are operating our business right now? What is Silver talking about? He came out and groveled to the Chinese right away and Morey deleted his tweet in support of the Hong Kong protesters right away. Seven words. “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.” Would Silver even be half-way supportive of Morey now if the outcry from Americans – Houston Rockets fans, politicians, and basketball fans across the country – hadn’t been so swift and strong?

Basketball is huge in China. The Rockets are big in Houston. When Yao Ming came to Houston, he was welcomed with open arms and made the toast of the city. I remember my husband and son coming home on Saturday after running into him in an electronics store, not long after Yao came here. They said how quiet and reserved he was and had a translator in tow. Houston made him a very wealthy man. He brought his parents over and they opened a restaurant. His daughter was born in Houston. The ties between Yao and the Rockets are deep, even today. He is a legend.


In other words, Yao Ming was given the opportunity to live the American Dream in Houston. When he retired he returned to China. He owns the Shanghai Sharks. He is also under the control of the Communist Chinese. The NBA makes millions of dollars from Chinese fans. Rockets players secure lucrative endorsement deals, too. It’s all fun and games until the Communist government reminds you of who they are. Freedom is a bad word.

Chinese fans also are fanatic about the Rockets and the NBA. Basketball shoes have become increasingly popular in China while sales have declined in the U.S. for the past four years.

NBA players frequently make promotional appearances in China for their affiliated shoe companies. Warriors star Klay Thompson, who has a 10-year contract with the Chinese company Anta, has been labeled “China Klay” during some of his outings. Former Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade has a lifetime deal with Li-Ning. Rockets star guard James Harden has made many trips to China to promote adidas products.

“Kobe Bryant never sold a lot of shoes in the U.S. (but) he was wildly popular in China,” said Matt Powell, a senior adviser for NPD Group, a global market research company. “(NBA players) draw crowds like rock stars.”

Politics is commonplace these days in sports. Sports stars are looked to for woke hot takes on everything. Is this a watershed moment? The American people are sick and tired of America kowtowing to China in order to not upset the status quo and affect the bottom line. This mess with the NBA is more of the same.


Yao has to decide where his loyalty is now. Can he smooth everything over and keep his position intact? Some damage has already been done in Houston. The only good thing happening right now is the fact that Morey is still employed by the Houston Rockets. If he is fired, it will be further proof of the weakness of the NBA.

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