China is the NBA’s biggest market worldwide. And the Washington Wizards have hosted the Guangzhou Loong Lions (previously the Long Lions) for three consecutive years. The Wizards won 137-98, but it came in the midst of an international controversy involving the NBA and China.
Though this story was big around the NBA, we didn’t cover it here since it didn’t affect the Wizards right away last weekend like it did for the Rockets. So here is a very abbreviated gist of what happened between the NBA, one of its teams and China.
Last Saturday, Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey tweeted support for Hong Kong, an autonomous region of mainland China. That tweet was deleted, but here are some snapshots of it and initial reaction:
Interesting situation going on with Rockets GM, Daryl Morey, right now:— Olgun Uluc (@OlgunUluc) October 5, 2019
- Morey tweeted support for Hong Kong.
- Rockets owner, Tilman Fertitta, quickly distanced the team from the tweet, which has a big Chinese fanbase.
- Morey’s latest tweet has been ratioed by Chinese users. pic.twitter.com/5pEHPudZ58
That sparked an international controversy. It angered the Chinese government, where businesses suspended or severed ties with the NBA and/or the Rockets. Ultimately, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver supported Morey’s right to free speech while also apologizing to Chinese fans this week.
The Lakers and Nets had a preseason game in Shanghai on Thursday evening (or morning Washington time) after some uncertainly whether it would happen at all. While the game was televised in the U.S., it was taken off the air in China. Most fans in Beijing were just NBA fans who wanted to see a game. But there were certainly protests. And some were profane.
The anger is real. So what do Chinese people really think about @NBA commissioner Adam Silver? Huge crowd surrounded us while we were interviewing fans in Shanghai. People said @dmorey is a 傻逼. Lots of folks yelled this. Look it up yourself. @CBSNews is here. #HongKongProtests pic.twitter.com/gdrDc6lZM7— Ramy Inocencio 英若明 (@RamyInocencio) October 10, 2019
Now, let’s tie how that international incident affected the Wizards.
There were scattered groups of protestors coming to yesterday’s game with “Free Hong Kong” t-shirts. Some also held signs protesting the NBA’s support of mainland China.
This sign reads: “Memo to the NBA: principles over profit! No to censorship! USA ❤️s Hong Kong” pic.twitter.com/bV2ziNVHIh— Stephen Whyno (@SWhyno) October 9, 2019
I went to the game just to watch it. Greydy Diaz came as well. Both of us were hearing and seeing fans routinely yell “Free Hong Kong!,” whether after the Chinese national anthem or when a player was shooting free throws.
Some of the protestors were arguing with people who were presumably mainland Chinese though they never got too serious. But we never saw anyone physically escorted out of the arena from our vantage points.
A spectator said “Free Hong Kong!”— Bullets Forever (@BulletsForever) October 9, 2019
Don’t think he’s booted. Yet. But ushers are keeping an eye on things. pic.twitter.com/jGVDx3zwVQ
But in other areas, some fans were asked to leave.
Arena security attempted to take fan’s “Free Tibet” sign. He refused to give it up. He and another fan holding Tibet flag were then escorted out. pic.twitter.com/tKhswCnV3u— Stephen Whyno (@SWhyno) October 9, 2019
Both Greydy and I saw Loong Lions trainers get irritated when they heard “Free Hong Kong” chants behind their bench and players had to calm them down. Ultimately, the arena security were trying to thread a needle between letting people say whatever they wanted and keeping the peace.
In the second half, these chants still went on. But by then Guangzhou tuned them out, though Loong Lions forward (and Wizards alumnus) Andrew Nicholson could be visibly seen asking a protestor to calm down.
Andrew Nicholson said “this is a basketball game” to one of the protestors.— Bullets Forever (@BulletsForever) October 10, 2019
My feeling is that the arena staff is just letting these chants happen as long as people don’t get into fights about it.
Yesterday’s “Free Hong Kong” protestors were just the beginning of the impact the Wizards have from the NBA’s controversy with China.
According to Keith Smith of Yahoo Sports, the 2020-21 NBA salary cap projection was estimated to be $116 million, before the controversy. However, that figure could drop by 10 to 15 percent after. This means the Wizards (and every other NBA team) would have $11.6 million to $17.4 million less to spend before hitting the soft cap figure.
This also effectively means that reserve center Ian Mahinmi, whose $16 million salary cap hit expires this year, could be effectively negated due to a lower cap number. In other words, the Wizards’ hopes to rebuild and use additional cap space from Mahinmi’s expiring contract would be hampered.
The Wizards were certainly not at the heart of last weekend’s controversy. But they certainly have felt and will feel more of the situation’s side effects as it plays out.