Silver: NBA can 'export American values' in relationship with China

Sam Amico

The NBA will continue to move forward in its relationship with China, commissioner Adam Silver said, telling Bob Costas of CNN that "at the end of the day, I think those decisions are for our government, in terms of where American businesses should operate."

Silver and the NBA have drawn widespread criticism from lawmakers and fans for a relationship with the communist nation -- brought to light last fall, when Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted support for Hong Kong protesters fighting for democracy.

It is believed that no sports league in U.S. history has profited financially off its relationship with China as the modern NBA.

"We've been operating in China for 40 years now. And when, in the late 70s, when we first made a decision, obviously before I got to the NBA, it was really Abe Pollin, then the owner of the Washington Bullets, brought his team over to play in Beijing, there was a decision that it was good for the world to build these relationships through sports," Silver told Costas, via the New York Times. "I think no different than dozens of Olympics that you've been involved in."

A late-July report from ESPN revealed player abuse at NBA training academies, with one coach saying, "Imagine you have a kid who's 13, 14 years old, and you've got a grown coach who is 40 years old hitting your kid. We're part of that. The NBA is part of that."

Along with that, it has been repeatedly reported that the Chinese government is guilty of multiple human rights infractions, including the detainment of more than a million Muslim Uighars in concentration camps.

Costas did not ask about the ESPN report or concentration camps during the interview and Silver did not address those topics.

"As the years have gone on, the NBA has increased its presence in China but always, until very recent history, at the encouragement of the State Department, of various administrations again from both sides of the aisle, that it was viewed as a really positive thing -- that we were exporting American values to China through the NBA," Silver told Costas. "There are definitely tradeoffs there. And somebody can say, you know, given the system of government in China, you, the NBA, should make a decision not to operate there.

"I would only say, at the end of the day, I think those decisions are for our government, in terms of where American businesses should operate. I continue to believe that the people to people exchanges we're seeing by playing in China are positive and it's helping. It helps cultures learn about each other. Again, it allows us to export American values to China. Those values came to an abrupt stop in certain cases when there was a Tweet by a general manager - and I'm losing track of seasons - I guess it was still this season, it was when this season that we're still in began, there was a Test by a general manager and as a result of that Tweet, we, the NBA, were taken off CCTV, Chinese Central Television in China.

"Now, we could've decided, because they took us off Chinese Central Television, that we should therefore, in essence, take our ball and go home and stop operating there.

"The fact is our games continue to be streamed on a service called Tencent in China. We've continued in there. At least, that's my view that it's been net positive to not move to disengagement, that that's not good for the world and that superpowers like the U.S. and China need to find ways to continue to operate together."