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.”