Blowing the Whistle on Roundball

Mister Rogers might ask, “Can we say hypocrites?” Admittedly, I’m not a big basketball fan. The last time I went to a professional roundball matchup—in fact, I think the only time—was around 1994. Frankly, I haven’t had the urge since then.

Despite my neglect of the game, I couldn’t help noticing the recent dustup between the National Basketball Association and the country of China. This would be akin to Major League Baseball starting a trade war with Japan. I’m not sure what the GNP of the NBA happens to be, but to me, it’s apparent deterioration is TBD.

I’ve heard that China is big on basketball. The NBA has played preseason games there for well over a decade to the roar of admiring Asian fans. Yao Ming (a Chinese native) played in the league for several years and was named an NBA All-Star eight times. At 7’6” tall and weighing in at 310 pounds, I guess that stands to reason—not that size matters, but it certainly helps.

“Fight for Freedom”

Recently, just in case you hadn’t noticed, China became enraged by a simple Tweet posted by one of the NBA’s astute General Managers. The Tweet simply said, “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.” Well, this is where the hypocrisy thing enters. 

When a citizen of the United States voices support for freedom, democracy, and the American Way, it’s often celebrated. Not so in the NBA—at least not this time. A firestorm ensued in which the actual owner of the team quickly Tweeted that their GM, “does NOT speak for the Houston Rockets” and that the team is “NOT a political organization.” Is that some sort of un-American response, a bit of backstabbing, or a stratagem of CYA? (Sorry for all the acronyms—it’s a sports thing.)

It didn’t end there, of course. Everyone else and his brother had to jump into the fray. The NBA itself put out a statement—actually, two statements—that tried to play it down the middle. The Commissioner stated that the original Tweet was regrettable, but that the league does not regulate the free speech of anyone. As he did so, he knew he might be watching a billion dollars go down the proverbial drain.

Who am I to Judge?

That is the sum estimated to be lost if the Chinese rage over the incident does not do a 180. The Chinese Government was quick to denounce the GM’s Tweet as “inappropriate” and hurtful to the fans in China. I’m guessing it was far more hurtful to the totalitarian dictatorship than to the fans, but who am I to judge?

In a move that smacked more of an employer’s directive than a sincere apology, the GM followed up with more Tweets. In them he said, “I was merely voicing one thought, based on one interpretation, of one complicated event. I have had a lot of opportunity since that tweet to hear and consider other perspectives.” I’m pretty sure there was only one other perspective—that of making money.

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and currently resides in Aldie, VA.]

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