NBA’s China tip-off to go ahead amid growing backlash

The intense Chinese backlash against the NBA over its attitudes on free speech and Hong Kong’s democracy movement has thrown the games into doubt. Above, Chinese fans wait for Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers players on Wednesday, October 9. (AP)
Updated 11 October 2019

NBA’s China tip-off to go ahead amid growing backlash

  • Intense Chinese backlash against the NBA over its attitudes on free speech and Hong Kong’s democracy movement
  • Controversy was sparked by a since-deleted tweet from Rockets general manager Daryl Morey supporting pro-democracy protesters

BEIJING: The National Basketball Association (NBA) is pressing ahead with an exhibition game on Thursday in Shanghai, despite a Chinese backlash against the league after a Houston Rockets executive’s tweet supporting pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

The NBA on Thursday published a post on Chinese social networking platform Weibo promoting the match between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Brooklyn Nets, accompanied by a short clip featuring star players LeBron James and Kyrie Irving.

The game is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. (1130 GMT).

NBA events scheduled on Tuesday and Wednesday were canceled and Chinese sponsors and partners suspended or severed ties with the league after Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted last week supporting anti-government protests in Chinese-ruled Hong Kong.

The NBA said in an email on Thursday that players and personnel would not be made available to the media. The league had scheduled a briefing before and after the game, and NBA commissioner Adam Silver had been expected to address the media.

State broadcaster CCTV and Tencent will not show Thursday’s game or the rematch scheduled for Saturday in Shenzhen on their platforms, underscoring the severity of the backlash.

The Hong Kong protests began in opposition to a bill allowing extradition to mainland China but have since evolved into broader calls for democracy. China has accused the West of stirring up anti-Beijing sentiment in Hong Kong, and Chinese state media has characterized Morey’s tweet as the latest example of meddling in China’s own affairs.

Silver spoke out in support of Morey’s freedom of expression on Tuesday, further angering Beijing. The NBA’s business in China, which took years to cultivate and is estimated to be worth more than $4 billion, is under immense pressure.

The NBA did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether Saturday’s Lakers-Nets game would take place.

Houston Rockets sneakers and other merchandise were pulled from several Nike and NBA stores in major Chinese cities, with the franchise’s direct association with Morey making it a central target of the furor. Managers at some of the Nike stores said they had been instructed to remove the goods via an internal memo from management.

A specialist NBA store at a major shopping center in Shanghai removed all Rockets merchandise, as did the basketball-themed NBA Playzone family entertainment centers in Beijing and Shanghai.

“Rockets products were hot before and when you stepped into the store, it was full of red. Now, it is mostly yellow and blue,” the colors of the Golden State Warriors, said a manager at the Shanghai Playzone, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Nike and the NBA did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment.

Other major Chinese retailers, including Alibaba and JD.com, also pulled Rockets merchandise off their various platforms. Alibaba and JD.com declined to comment.

Chinese state and party-backed media continued to publish items critical of the NBA. The official English China Daily published an editorial cartoon on Thursday playing on the NBA’s official logo of an athlete dribbling a basketball. The cartoon instead put a bomb labelled “politics” in the athlete’s hand, leaving the basketball fallen by the wayside.

Some Chinese also called on those attending Thursday’s game to carry the Chinese flag into the stadium in a demonstration of patriotic solidarity.

“Those going to watch the game live, remember to bring the national flag,” one user wrote on Weibo. “Hope to see a sea of red, five-starred red flag fluttering in the wind.”


Neymar limps off as Brazil draw with Nigeria

Updated 14 October 2019

Neymar limps off as Brazil draw with Nigeria

  • The 27-year-old’s return to Champions League action may now be delayed

SINGAPORE: Neymar limped off injured early on as Brazil played out a 1-1 friendly draw against a spirited Nigeria at the Singapore National Stadium on Sunday.

The five-time world champions fell behind in the first half, but Casemiro's equalizer early in the second period prevented a loss but then  Brazil were unable to leave Southeast Asia with a victory by wasting chances, after also being held by Senegal on Thursday.

Brazil started well, with Liverpool forward Roberto Firmino firing just wide in the third minute after a smart turn near the penalty spot.

However, Brazil were dealt a major blow when Neymar limped off in the 12th minute with what appeared to be a left thigh problem — the Paris Saint-Germain striker replaced by Bayern Munich’s Philippe Coutinho to bring a premature end to his 101st international appearance.

Neymar's return to Champions League action may now be delayed, with PSG facing Club Brugge on Oct. 22 after the world’s most expensive player missed the first two games through suspension.

“During the match he felt a muscle injury, so I took him off as a precaution,” Brazil coach Tite said.

“Neymar did not have a muscle issue before the match. I would never start a player if they had a hint of a problem like this, I would never pay that price,” Tite added of the 27-year-old, who has suffered a string of injuries since his move from Barcelona to PSG in 2017.

“My career has taught me that I would never use a player if he was not in condition to play. It would be irresponsible of me to risk a player carrying an injury.”

Neymar will be disappointed he was unable to draw level with Brazil legend Ronaldo, who sits second in the country’s all-time scoring list behind Pele, on 62 international goals this week. But Nigeria provided resolute opposition by working hard to prevent the South Americans from forging many clear openings.

Gabriel Jesus, Firmino and Coutinho all went close for Brazil, but it was Nigeria who took the lead in the 35th minute when Joe Aribo burst through a gap in the South Americans' defence and skipped around Marquinhos before firing low past goalkeeper Ederson from close range.

The smart strike was the English-born player's second goal in two appearance for Nigeria after the Rangers midfielder scored on his debut against Ukraine last month.

A more determined Brazil needed just three minutes after the interval to draw level, however, as Real Madrid midfielder Casemiro slotted home after a Marquinhos header had rattled the crossbar following a well-worked corner.

Brazil ramped up the pressure as the match progressed, stretching the Nigeria defence with sharp passing and clever movement as Casemiro, Jesus and half-time substitute Richarlison all came close to giving their side the lead.

Tite's men poured forward in search of a winner with Coutinho guilty of wasting a glorious opportunity with five minutes remaining when the unmarked midfielder's weak effort was cleared off the line by Semi Ajayi.

"I thought it was a good match for us and we created plenty of chances but just could not get that second goal," Tite added. "We definitely missed Neymar's creativity after he went off."