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Opinion: Hey NBA, choose profit or social justice, not both

Supporting justice at convenience is worse than no support at all


"The NBA needs to decide if it cares more about profit or the greater good." Illustration published on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019.

Amid this year's controversy surrounding China and basketball, ASU will kick off its 2019-20 men’s basketball season Friday against Colorado in Shanghai, China. 

Standing up for social justice and the freedom of expression only when it is convenient might be worse than not standing up for it at all. The NBA needs to decide if it cares more about profit or the greater good.

This recent controversy surrounding the NBA started on Oct. 4, when Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey sent out a tweet showing his support for the protests in Hong Kong, a move that is consistent with the National Basketball Association’s history of standing for social justice.

Following the tweet, the NBA then got itself in major trouble with China after NBA Commissioner Adam Silver supported Morey’s freedom of expression. China, which had 800 million people view NBA programming last year, announced that it would halt airing any NBA related programming. 

“It’s not something we expected to happen,” Silver said in a press conference. “It’s unfortunate. If that’s the consequence of us adhering to our values, we still feel it's critically important to adhere to those values.”

At this point, it was so far, so good on the NBA deciding to stand up for social justice and freedom of expression. Then the tone shifted. Many apologies came out — including one from former Sun Devil and current Houston Rockets player, James Harden.

“We apologize,” Harden said in a press conference. “We love China, we love playing there. Individually, we go there once or twice a year. They show us the most support and love. We appreciate them as a fanbase. We love everything they are about, and we appreciate the support that they give us individually and as an organization.”

This is a complete 180-degree flip from the stance of standing up for what is right and is instead a move that focuses on profit. 

The NBA also stopped a CNN reporter from asking a question about the controversy at a press conference on Oct. 10 in Japan.

There is no proof the NBA was forcing its stars like Harden to make these apologies, but it does seem suspect. Why would players who are known for being outspoken on social issues start apologizing for these comments? 

The worst thing about Harden’s remarks was when he said, “We love everything they (China) are about.” By saying this, Harden makes it seem like he could support the oppression of Hong Kong citizens.

Despite controversy surrounding the Sun Devils' trip to Shanghai, overall, the trip to China is a positive because it provides multiple learning opportunities for the players and potentially great exposure for the Pac-12 and the University.

"ASU men’s basketball team being in China is a really amazing platform not only for the growth of the game itself but also for the exposure of Arizona State and the Pac-12 as a whole," said Elyse Dunn, a junior studying marketing and sports business and executive vice president of the Sports Business Association.

READ MORE: The tangled net of ASU men's basketball, China, the NBA and politics

In a press conference on Oct. 30, the Sun Devils' head coach Bobby Hurley focused on the educational benefits of the trip to Shanghai and said the team is "very excited about this trip." 

Hurley also placed an emphasis on the separation of ASU's team from the NBA.

"We talked with the guys a lot about what we do," Hurley said. "We don't get involved in what happened with the NBA. We're a different entity. This is a different situation."

If the NBA does not consistently choose to either stand up for social justice or prioritize profit, the focus won't be on the argument in favor of social justice, but instead on the issue of inconsistency. 

While both small and large efforts to stand up for what is right matter, beating around the bush does not allow officials to adequately stand up for social justice. 

“At the end of the day, though,” Silver said at a press conference. “I am an American and there are these values that are deeply rooted in the DNA of the NBA.”

Correct, Commissioner Silver. There are values that are deeply rooted in being an American. Stand up for them. Don’t let affluence cloud your vision, or trips like the one ASU and Colorado men's basketball teams are taking will cease to exist.

Reach the columnist at or follow @anc2018 on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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