Adam Silver Says NBA Expects to Lose 'Hundreds of Millions' in China Backlash

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NBA commissioner Adam Silver said on Saturday that the league will likely lose “hundreds of millions of dollars” because of regressions in its China business.

“In terms of the precise numbers, it's still a little bit uncertain,” Silver said.“I think that the magnitude of the loss will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Certainly, probably less than $400 million.” 

He later clarified: “It's substantial. I don't want to run from that. We were taken off the air in China for a period of time, and it caused our many business partners in China to feel it was therefore inappropriate to have ongoing relationships with us. But I don’t have any sense that there’s any permanent damage to our business there.”

Silver's estimate is the first public comment on how much the league will lose as a result of the incidents that occurred around four months ago. The NBA has lowered its salary-cap projections for the 2020–21 season as a result. And Silver noted that the true impact of the rift on the league’s revenue won’t be known until after the playoffs.

The commissioner did make a distinction between the country's people and its government. He said that the NBA's relationship with the people of China remains “strong," citing “interest in the NBA digitally and the games that are being streamed there.” 

The Chinese government shut the NBA out in October, after Rockets GM Daryl Morey shared an image on Twitter that supported pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. Morey later deleted the tweet, but controversy had already begun and would quickly snowball.

Almost immediately, Chinese sponsors began cutting ties with the NBA and China Central Television (CCTV), the state-run television broadcaster, refused to air any more NBA games. CCTV has not aired NBA games this season. 

"My sense is they will at some point in the future," Silver said. "We are not pressing them. It's a decision that's outside of our control, and I will say I'm often not even sure exactly where that decision lies.”

Tencent, a streaming network, has been airing a reduced number of games this season and is airing the events of All-Star Weekend.

Speaking at his annual state of the league press conference during the league's midseason break, Silver also announced the league is renaming the All-Star Game MVP award after the late Kobe Bryant.