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Bill Baptist/NBAE/Getty Images

Daryl Morey (Bill Baptist/NBAE/Getty Images)

Out of bounds

The NBA faced a backlash after apologizing for a team general manager’s tweet supporting pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong

As the Hong Kong protests enter their fifth month, the clash between the democratic ideals of demonstrators and the authoritarianism of Beijing is now being felt in corporate America. This week, the National Basketball Association faces the choice all companies working in China must face: Free speech or access to the massive Chinese market?

On Friday, Daryl Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets, tweeted an image with the popular protest slogan: “Fight for Freedom, stand with Hong Kong.” He quickly deleted the message, but the damage was done: Chinese sponsors paused their deals with the Rockets, major Chinese broadcasters dropped Rockets games, and two exhibition games for a team affiliated with the Rockets were canceled, according to The New York Times.

The NBA is extremely popular in China, with tech company Tencent reporting that 490 million people watched NBA programming last year. The Rockets have a huge Chinese fan base because Chinese native Yao Ming played for the team for nearly a decade. 

Concerned about losing the Chinese market, Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta distanced himself from Morey, noting that Morey did not speak for the team and that the NBA was not a political organization. On Sunday night, Morey followed up with a tweet that read, “I did not intend my tweet to cause any offense to Rockets fans and friends of mine in China. I was merely voicing one thought, based on one interpretation, of one complicated event.” 

NBA spokesman Mike Bass on Sunday sent out a statement saying it was “regrettable” that Morey’s tweet “deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China.” But the Chinese-language statement the NBA posted on Weibo used much stronger language, saying it was “extremely disappointed in the inappropriate comment” and that Morey’s views “undoubtedly seriously hurt the feelings of Chinese basketball fans.”

The NBA faced a backlash from politicians and Americans who saw the organization as choosing money over morals. In the United States, the NBA had allowed its players and coaches to express political views regarding racism, police shootings, and gun control. The league refused to hold its All-Star Game in North Carolina because of a bathroom bill that the NBA claimed discriminated against transgender people.

“Basketball fans and the American people more broadly should have absolutely no doubt about what is happening here: The NBA wants money, and the Communist Party of China is asking them to deny the most basic of human rights,” said Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb. “In response, the NBA issued a statement saying money is the most important thing.” Other lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have also criticized the move, including Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., a Democratic presidential candidate.

Brooklyn Nets owner Joe Tsai, a Taiwan-born billionaire and the co-founder of Alibaba Group, issued a statement criticizing Morey. He claimed that Westerners misunderstood that all 1.4 billion Chinese “stand united when it comes to the territorial integrity of China and the country’s sovereignty over her homeland,” and added that the pro-democracy protesters supported a “separatist movement.” (Most Hong Kongers are not fighting for independence, but for China to give them the political autonomy it once promised.)

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver told a Japanese publication that he supported Morey’s right to free speech. In response, Chinese government-run CCTV announced Tuesday it would stop broadcasting NBA preseason games. “Values of equality, respect and freedom of expression have long defined the NBA—and will continue to do so,” Silver reiterated in a statement Tuesday. “The NBA will not put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees, and team owners say or will not say on these issues.”

Chinese censors also banned South Park, the irreverent animated show on Comedy Central, from the Chinese internet Monday after a recent episode mocked how filmmakers censor their own movies to appeal to the Chinese market. A character in the show gets caught bringing marijuana into China and is sent to a labor camp similar to the ones in Xinjiang in which authorities are holding more than 1 million Uighurs.

In response to their banishment, South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone crafted their own fake apology, mocking how China had banned images of Winnie the Pooh because of memes that compared the President Xi Jinping to the Disney cartoon character.

“Like the NBA, we welcome the Chinese censors into our homes and into our hearts,” the sarcastic statement read. “We too love money more than freedom and democracy. … Long live the great Communist Party of China! May this autumn’s sorghum harvest be bountiful! We good now China?”

U.S. action at last:

On Monday, the U.S. Commerce Department blacklisted 28 Chinese tech companies and government agencies for their involvement in the monitoring and detainment of Uighurs in China’s Xinjiang region. The groups, which include Hikvision and Megvii Technology, will be barred from buying products from U.S. companies without approval from Washington. 

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Emily Belz

Hong Kong protesters at Washington Square Park in New York City (Emily Belz)

Sound of solidarity

New Yorkers sing and chant in support of Hong Kong protesters

A New York moment: 

While WORLD’s June Cheng faced tear gas and violence as she covered protests in Hong Kong, I was lucky to go to a peaceful, sunny gathering in New York’s Washington Square Park, where activists assembled in a show of support for the Hong Kong protests. 

New York has had several protests—in front of the Chinese Consulate and in parks—over the last few days. There is some division of opinion here, as a pro–Hong Kong wall for posters in Chinatown has been repeatedly defaced with pro-Beijing slogans. 

On this gorgeous Saturday, a small orchestra materialized in front of the Washington Square Park arch, which is emblazoned with a quote from George Washington: “Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair. The event is in the hand of God.”

The orchestra was clad in the attire of the Hong Kong protesters: black clothes from head to toe, and yellow hard hats. A small crowd gathered, also dressed in black, and the band played “Glory to Hong Kong,” an anthem of the protests, as the crowd sang in Cantonese and English. Then the band transitioned to another song identified with the protests, “Do You Hear the People Sing?” from Les Misérables.

Between the singing, the crowd chanted protester slogans: “Five demands, not one less!” People handed out literature, including “The Hong Kong Protestors’ Letter to the Free World,” which reviews the oppressive history of the Chinese Communist Party, starting with the Cultural Revolution, and paints a picture of a totalitarian regime that is trying to bring down “the new West Berlin,” Hong Kong. 

“We call for the free world to join us and stand as one against the greatest threat it has ever seen,” the letter reads. Protesters in Hong Kong have sought U.S. support, with many waving American flags and singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” as they march.

Worth your time:  

Comedian Gary Gulman, one of my favorites, appears on this podcast episode and gives a pastor advice on how to be funny in sermons. 

This week I learned: 

The only survivor from the spot where a plane slammed into the World Trade Center’s south tower on 9/11 is now a Pentecostal pastor.

A court detail you might not know about: 

Some handwritten notes that Supreme Court justices have passed to each other during oral arguments over the decades are now public. 

During the 1973 National League Championship Series, aides brought updates on the game to the justices, who passed the notes to each other while listening to court arguments: “[Ken] Griffey flied out to center, w/bases loaded. NO SCORE,” reads one note.

Culture I am consuming:

The Irishman, Martin Scorsese’s mobster film coming to theaters Nov. 1, played at the New York Film Festival last weekend. It’s very good. Joe Pesci’s performance especially stands out.

Email me with tips, story ideas, and feedback at ebelz@wng.org 

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iStock

(iStock)

Family attraction

New Yorkers ask: How can cities become more appealing to families with children?

A New York moment: 

For the last century New York City, particularly Manhattan, has been a place that families leave once they have school-age children, a migration mostly due to high rents and a spotty education system. Last week smart New Yorkers—The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson, the Manhattan Institute’s Kay Hymowitz, and property developer Brad Hargreaves—gathered at a Manhattan Institute event to discuss this issue over the clatter of tiny plates of cured meats and marinated olives.

New York reflects a historical trend of families leaving all major cities east of the Mississippi, minus an outlier or two like Indianapolis, according to Thompson, who has written several pieces on the changing demographics of cities. But that trend seems to be accelerating even as crime levels are at historic lows and urban gentrification has taken off. 

Thompson worried about the “equality of opportunity” for families when most high-paying work is “in places where families cannot stay.” (This Vox piece makes a compelling case for why raising children in the city is not as terrible as many think. I’ve seen the positive picture the author paints play out among families in my church.) 

Meanwhile, Hargreaves has two companies: One is riding the wave of roommate households (which outnumber nuclear families in New York), and the other is trying to make more space for families. The first, Common, rents private bedrooms that have shared kitchens and common spaces. The second company, called Kin, plans to construct residential buildings designed for families, with shared child care and play areas in the building. 

Kin is piloting its first such family building in the rapidly gentrifying Long Island City, a Queens neighborhood one stop out of Manhattan. The photos make this building appear designed for a wealthier set, but perhaps if wealthier families stay in the city, they will help improve institutions for other families in the city. 

Worth your time:  

Elite chess is extremely athletic, according to experts. Players can lose 10 to 12 pounds in one tournament. One grandmaster playing in a tournament “had burned 560 calories in two hours of sitting and playing chess—or roughly what Roger Federer would burn in an hour of singles tennis.” 

This week I learned: 

Median household income has jumped 17 percent in the last decade in Democratic districts, and it has fallen 3 percent in Republican ones, according to data from the Brookings Institution. 

A court case you might not know about: 

In 2009, a small-time Jamaican drug trafficker cooperated with the U.S. government to testify against his boss, a drug kingpin. In retaliation for his testimony, “his sister’s house was burned down, the house of his children’s mother was bombed, six of his cousins have been murdered, and his father was forced to flee the country,” according to a U.S. federal judge.

This year, unexpectedly, the federal government deported him to Jamaica, though his immigration hearings were ongoing. For three days he dodged attempts on his life in Jamaica before a U.S. judge ordered federal agents to bring him back to the United States while his case proceeds. 

Culture I am consuming: 

My relatives and I have started a film club project to watch several of French director Claire Denis’ films. This weekend, it was 35 Shots of Rum, a 2008 film about the relationship between a father and daughter. Denis was raised in Francophone countries in West Africa, so many of her films focus on French-speaking African characters.

Email me with tips, story ideas, and feedback at ebelz@wng.org 

 

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