On October 4th, one simple, powerful tweet by the Houston Rockets GM triggered a course of events that have deeply affected a long-lasting relationship between the NBA and China. They could turn out to be the most expensive seven words in recent NBA history.
"Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong"
Daryl Morey, Twitter
NBA’s history with China dates back to the late 1980s when its commissioner at that time, David Stern, met with China’s state-run television network CCTV to get games on the air.
By 1994, all the NBA finals were shown live in China, and by the time Yao Ming played his first rookie game, more than 200 million Chinese people were glued to the TV to watch the then young star's debut.
The rest is history, Yao's impact on popularising the sport in China was unparalleled. Overnight, basketball became China's favorite sport and the Houston Rockets became China's favorite team.
So it is kind of poetic that Rockets GM was the one who started a tidal wave of issues with China when he tweeted in support of the Hong Kong protests.
Meanwhile, we’ve witnessed the NBA be unnaturally apologetic towards China, players like LeBron James publicly scolding Morey’s actions, China banning the NBA, and even the POTUS getting involved.
Now, more than a year later, some experts are estimating that the potential losses the NBA could suffer add up to more than $200 million dollars. And since China's CCTV is yet to start re-airing NBA games on national television, this number could potentially only get bigger.
To prevent total chaos, the league will probably agree to artificially keep next year's cap the same as this year's - around $109 million. While the largest revenue hit is caused by COVID-19, losing China as a market could turn out to be even more expensive for the NBA in the long run.