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After a U.S. senator grilled the NBA over its purported new contract with China’s state-sponsored CCTV – and any free speech concessions such a deal might’ve required – The Post obtained a copy of the league’s response denying any deal had been struck or restrictions had even been discussed.
The Chinese Communist Party daily Global Times (citing reporter Zhao Huanyu) stated China Central Television’s broadcast of the March 7 All-Star Game marked the start of NBA coverage returning to normal in China. Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) fired off a two-page letter to commissioner Adam Silver questioning why the NBA cut a deal with a network controlled by the Communist party.
Blackburn pressed Silver on 1) the details on the reported new contract and exactly what the league would need to “adhere to” regarding touchy subjects like Hong Kong and the Xinjiang region, (2) what the financial hit of being off CCTV was, and 3) the role China’s CEO Michael Ma — whose father is a top CCTV executive – played in the deal. Silver was given until March 30 to answer.
The Post has obtained a copy of the league’s response, from deputy commissioner and chief operating officer Mark Tatum, which confirmed talks are ongoing but that no free speech concessions had been made or even broached.
“Contrary to the Chinese media report that you cite, the NBA has not entered into a contract with CCTV for the 2020-21 NBA season, and no games have aired on CCTV thus far this season,” the letter stated. “We have had some discussions with CCTV about televising NBA basketball games but no restrictions on speech (related to the topics set forth in your question or otherwise) have been raised.”
Of course, free speech – or the suppression of such in China – is what started this entire flap during the 2019 protests by Hong Kong residents over the perceived erosion of freedoms they’d been promised when China took control of the former British colony in 1997.
Then-Rockets GM Daryl Morey – now with the Philadelphia 76ers – retweeted a meme featuring the words “Fight For Freedom. Stand With Hong Kong,” and the Chinese government promptly became enraged. State-run CCTV suspended cooperation with the NBA just as the Nets and Lakers were preparing for preseason games in Shanghai and Shenzen.
That cooperation has never resumed, other than Games 5 and 6 of last year’s NBA Finals and this year’s All-Star Game. It has cost the NBA dearly, with Silver admitting at last year’s All-Star Game that the league could lose as much as $400 million in revenue over the year due to the tiff with China.
The letter obtained by The Post reiterated the losses could still be in that vicinity.
“The overall financial impact of CCTV’s ban on airing NBA games during the 2019-20 NBA season (with the exception of the last two games of the 2019-20 NBA Finals, which did air) has been significant,” the letter read. “We estimate the total revenue loss across all of our business lines in China to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.”
Before this year’s All-Star Game, Silver had played down the significance of CCTV airing the March 7 event, noting that it had broadcast the two Finals games and that streaming company Tencent had never stopped carrying games.
“Our business has continued there. For me, no different from the reason we conduct All-Star here in the United States: For fan engagement,” said Silver. “We have hundreds of millions of fans in China and we see it as our business to serve those fans.
“And my – our — general philosophy and our mission is if we can improve people’s lives through basketball, we think it’s appropriate for us to be continuing to export our games to China.
“Our values remain the same, and our business continues. And it’s largely the business of exporting American basketball and the culture that comes with it to China. And it’s enjoyed, as I said, by tens of millions if not hundreds of millions of people in China, who continue to watch it. And so that’s our current status.”
This is not the first time Republican lawmakers have gone after the NBA on the topic. Last summer both Blackburn and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) claimed the NBA deceived Congressional members over its involvement in a youth basketball academy based in a controversial part of China.
The office of Nets owner Joe Tsai — who is on the board of NBA China — referred The Post to the NBA communications office. Calls to the league seeking comment were not immediately returned.
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