Cuban made the remark during a podcast with former Fox News and NBC News host Megyn Kelly. The Mavericks owner said he was “against human rights violations around the world” after Kelly asked why he and the National Basketball Association (NBA) seemed to turn a blind eye to the Chinese government’s human rights violations.
Cuban attempted to evade Kelly’s question multiple times: He insisted that China was not the only country with human rights violations, he brought up similar instances happening in Turkey and Africa and even insinuated that no company should do business with China because of its human rights record.
Kelly maintained the pressure on Cuban until he admitted: “[China is] a customer of ours, and guess what, Megyn? I’m OK doing business with China. And so, we have to pick our battles.”
The Chinese government’s various human rights abuses – such as its violent crackdowns on pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, its imprisonment and brainwashing of Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang, its illegal organ harvesting on Falun Gong prisoners and its suppression of Chinese Christians – have been well documented.
Cuban’s remarks during the podcast with Kelly show the extent of the NBA’s relationship with China, where basketball is incidentally the most popular sport – brought about by the popularity of former Houston Rockets player Yao Ming.
Therefore, any statement that may offend the league’s mainland Chinese fan base is best left unsaid. The NBA learned this lesson the hard way in 2019, in a case involving Yao’s former team. When Rockets general manager Daryl Morey expressed his support toward the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong in a tweet, it prompted backlash from both Chinese authorities and Chinese social media users.
The league distanced itself from Morey’s tweet to control the damage, acknowledging the manager’s statement “deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China.” Rockets player James Harden apologized on behalf of his manager and expressed appreciation towards the team’s Chinese fans.
Morey himself later retracted his stance, but the damage had already been done. The quick reaction of NBA’s Chinese partners following his tweet had serious consequences: Sponsors backed out of deals, sportswear manufacturers suspended endorsements and organizers canceled exhibition games with the Rockets.
Former NBA player turned basketball analyst Charles Barkley slammed detractors of the league’s business relationship with China – calling them “idiots,” “jackasses” and “hypocrites” for wanting to “control what happens in a foreign country.”
According to Barkley, the business partnership between the league and China involved “billions of dollars at stake.” He said: “The NBA makes billions of dollars in China and that goes to the owners and the players. So, it’s a business decision, and I totally understand it.”
Barkley’s comments show that the league’s top players do benefit from pandering to the Chinese market. LeBron James is one such player who has definitely raked in a lot of money by acceding to his Chinese fans.
“King” James has good reason to do so: Fox Business found that he had a lucrative $1 billion deal with Nike, with the sportswear retailer carrying his signature line of athletic shoes. Nike saw its sales in China rose to $1.7 billion during the third quarter of 2019 alone. Moreover, James is set to star in Space Jam 2, a sequel of the 1996 film starring Michael Jordan – with the upcoming sequel expected to recoup from Chinese audiences.
Cuban, Barkley, James and the rest of the NBA cannot afford to embarrass their mainland Chinese fans by slamming China’s human rights violations as there are “billions of dollars at stake.”