“There’s a firestorm of reaction to how the NBA is handling a conflict between its business in China and its approach to free speech and human rights.”
“Just seven words have plunged U.S. national basketball into a geopolitical crisis.”
“If we can glean anything from the last 48 hours, it’s that China’s happy to shut down major U.S. businesses there who upset the Communist Party.”
Those voices are discussing the controversy between the NBA, representing about 590 people, and The People’s Republic of China, representing approximately 1 billion, 409 million, 517,379 people, respectively.
Last week, the general manager of the Houston Rockets tweeted seven words — fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong — which led Chinese businesses to suspend licensing agreements, ban the airing of preseason NBA games in the country, and comp Michael Jordan a couple of VIP suites in Macau to get him to start gambling again.
The NBA initially apologized for the tweet, then the NBA commissioner seemingly reversed the apology by defending freedom of expression, and now, NBA players are deciding to “stay out of it,” which is essentially apologizing for the apology for the apology.
But this NBA controversy isn’t some isolated business incident, like that time you swiped your boss on Tinder. Apple also capitulated to Chinese interests this week by removing an app from its App Store that was used by Hong Kong citizens to mark locations of police and street closures. Getting rid of this app means protesters had to wander around and find fight their way through packed, angry crowds with no help in sight, like at an Apple Store.
And for the company’s new Apple TV+ service, it’s also reportedly asking production companies to steer away from content that censors might find unacceptable in China. Apple launches the service in November and they’re hoping it makes a big impact, like the sound of an assembly line worker at an iPhone factory who hits the pavement after slipping through the net that’s supposed to catch them when they jump off of the roof at the end of their second shift.
U.S. politicians have trashed China’s behavior here — and not just in one party. This isn’t China. We have two. Elizabeth Warren accused the NBA of choosing its “pocketbook over its principles.” It’s a take I tend to agree with — I don’t think we should be compromising our values for the sake of making a buck — but, I mean, who are we kidding? “Pocketbook over its principles” is the subtitle of this country.
Co-pays, convenience charges, dollar menus. If we had any principles, we’d say, hey, we’ve decided that too many guns have killed students in Algebra 1, so we’re getting rid of them. Instead, we take principals and try to arm them — after selling them a gun.
Now, That might seem like a bit of a leap — a Great Leap Forward, if you will — but my point is that Apple will be fine. The NBA will be fine. They’ll sell a couple less iPads and sneakers in Beijing? Who cares?
These companies are not our friends, and we shouldn’t be relying on them for moral guidance. And having said that, I’d love to have them as a sponsor.