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NBA’s Reaction to Problems in China

Politics Staff Writers: Sai Golkonda and Waleed Masood

Kobe Bryant meant a lot to many people. He became a hero and idol to many, a light at the end of the tunnel symbolizing the path you had to go through to achieve success. As we write this piece we look back to our heroes growing up in America. We would shout “KOBE!” when we put up jump shots, or when we threw things in the trash. His excellence, his demeanor, and his work ethic were emulated by kids and adults who aspired to be like him. LeBron James was another idol of many people as fans continue to argue who is the greatest of all time. Fans look up to him as he demonstrates excellence, both on and off the court. Although Bulls fans greatly despised him because of the torment Lebron inflicted on them-- constantly knocking them out of the playoffs-- they still respected him because of the great man he is.

Seeing someone that was a person of color just excelling in something he did was everything to us. Kobe and LeBron gave us a sense of peace in a pressure packed life. It felt like I could relate to them, their strive to be great coincided with how alot of immigrant families feel. They carry a pressure to succeed no matter what. Our heroes were also leaders of the court. Seeing these stars help their parents, family, and kids helped shape the way we saw the world.

The Power that NBA stars like LeBron have

LeBron James is arguably the best player in the NBA and is currently at the top of his game. He continues to break records to become the greatest player ever. However, off the court, he is also helping to change the world through his philanthropic works and even politics.

James partnered with Akron Public Schools in designing the state-of-the-art institute. The school is named the “I Promise” School. The school takes on an innovative, STEM-focused and experiential learning-based approach to urban public education. The school provides free tuition, uniforms, breakfast, lunch and free transportation. The school also offers a food pantry and GED services for parents. LeBron James wanted to create a line of schools to help kids in impoverished communities and help kids across the country.

James has also created the The LeBron James Family Foundation. This foundation had been improving the lives of children and young adults through education and co-curricular educational initiatives. In 2015, James’ foundation amassed $41 million to cover college tuition for kids in Akron, Ohio. This foundation also has strong partnerships with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. James has donated millions to these organizations and has given them his time and support.

LeBron James doesn't just stop at just doing philanthropy, but he also uses his influence in politics. He has publicly backed numerous Democratic Party tickets and has been a strong supporter of Black Lives Matter. Lebron has also recently helped form a group called “More Than A Vote,” which was established to mobilize Black voters and help fight against voter suppression. He even publicly criticizes Donald Trump and has gotten criticism for those words from Donald Trump, Laura Ingraham and many others. His willingness to tackle racial inequality, police shootings and even the president, has emboldened other influential people. LeBron knows he’s bringing awareness, “I will not shut up and dribble, I mean too much to my family and all these other kids that look up to me for inspiration and try to find a way out.” James realizes that his social media reach (70.8 million followers on Instagram, 47 million followers on Twitter and 24 million followers on Facebook) adds to his ability to say what he wants without affecting his ‘brand’. He has even said to ESPN’s Mina Kimes, “I don't think companies are afraid anymore. The companies are realizing and understanding the athletes, that they have a voice to talk about their feelings and passions about things that go on”. However, LeBron and many other popular athletes are becoming hypocrites on the specific issues they fight for and the ones they choose not to speak up about.

Hypocrisy of the NBA

The NBA has been increasingly vocal about prevalent issues in our nation today, such as the systemic oppression and racism primarily towards Black communities. This has resulted in players such as LeBron James to kneel during the National Anthem and call out the injustices that occur throughout the U.S. These protests have also largely influenced their fans’ goals for achieving social justice as mass movements across the country have taken place against injustices such as the killing of George Floyd. Most NBA players now kneel before every game during the national anthem and wear jerseys that have a symbolic name on the back, such as “Say their names,” “Enough,” and “Black Lives Matter.” These messages serve as constant reminders for the players and for their fans watching of the unjustness that is prevalent in the U.S. today.

Although the NBA has been outspoken for Black Lives Matter and continues to work for equality, they have been largely silent when it comes to other injustices on a global scale. We especially see this with the ongoing situations in China. In October of 2019, Daryl Morey, the Houston Rockets General Manager, issued a statement of support for the Hong Kong protestors on Twitter; however, he was met with fierce opposition in China, with the Chinese Basketball Association-- which represents China in the International Basketball Federation-- announcing that they would discontinue their cooperation with the Rockets. This resulted in the Rockets’ sponsors and partners in China to censor their games in China. As a result, the Rockets owner-- Tilman Fertitta-- was forced to dissociate Daryl Morey’s support from their team. Mr. Morey then later deleted his tweet. LeBron James even had words about this incident stating that Morey was ‘uneducated’ and ‘misinformed’ about his comments. James then went on to say that, “it was too much for players to take on in that moment - to explain issues with racial, socioeconomic and geopolitical layers while visitors in China”. James for years has taken up this mantle of pushing progressive ideas and activism but yet was shown to tread carefully on what seems to be such a clear-cut matter of right and wrong.

The NBA has also shown a lack of support for the Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang province of China. This minority ethnic group in Northwest China has been forced into concentration camps, with the Chinese authority removing Islam from their daily lives. This occurs by the Chinese military forcing their prisoners to eat pork, burning Qurans and mosques, and kidnapping and killing the Uyghur Muslims. Dr. Erkin Sidick-- the President of the Uyghur Projects Foundation and senior advisor to the World Uyghur Congress-- claims that the total number of Uyghurs detained and killed is greater than the total number of Jews detained and killed during the Holocaust. He calls these concentration camps an “extermination” of the Uyghur Muslims. However, not much attention is being given to this atrocity, especially in professional sports.

The most open advocate against this oppression is Arsenal’s soccer player Mesut Ozil, a staunch critic of China’s exterminating procedures in Xinjiang. Although the NBA has expressed their frustrations with the oppression in the U.S. against black people, they have done little to nothing for the Uyghur Muslims. They completely ignore this extermination, possibly because of the repercussions they could face from the NBA or their franchise. The NBA has increasingly focused and acted on Black Lives Matter, even while receiving unjust complaints against these actions, but they continue to not speak out about a complete annihilation of an ethnic minority. Now, more than 70% of the players in the NBA are black and so obviously things like BLM and other issues that impact the black and brown communities of America will most definitely be the primary concern of these players. However, this lack of discussion on human rights abuses in China is something that also needs to be addressed.

A significant part of this lack of advocacy against the concentration camps in China and the authoritarian government of Xi Jinping is due to financial investment. With its largest population and its one of the best economies, China is the second largest producer of revenue for the NBA, estimating at about $4 billion annually. China also has several noteworthy sponsors that recently have cut ties with the NBA due to ongoing tensions between the NBA and China. This has had an immense impact on the NBA revenue and is why the NBA has refrained from making statements about events occurring in China. However, NBA players need to put this aside. Although ties are not permanently severed with these Chinese sponsors, NBA players and management should be able to voice their frustrations with what is happening in China without any repercussions to them. A major component of this is the loss of money for players as well, which should not be a factor when advocating for basic human rights that Uyghur Muslims are not receiving in China.


We see the effect the NBA is having on racial injustices in America. The attention and stature these players bring to these issues is amazing to see. However, their silence on issues in China especially when they are obviously linked with them is not at all okay. The NBA needs to put its morals higher than its sponsorships.


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