Short blog posts, journal entries, and random thoughts. Topics include a mix of personal and the world at large. 

The soft power of China part 4

You know, I don’t expect LeBron James to actually stand up against China; he’s got too much vested interest with the country, what with his immense relationship with Nike, and his inroads into Hollywood production. So I wasn’t surprised yesterday to hear LeBron take a neutral position - like many players have - on the matter that started with a tweet by Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey in support of the Hong Kong protest movement.

However, I was very surprised and somewhat shocked that LeBron went further than staking a neutral stance: he threw Daryl Morey under the bus! James said Morey was “misinformed”, that freedom of speech has “ramifications”, and Morey was being selfish for not considering the consequences his actions carry downstream. This is wild stuff coming from a player who stood with Colin Kaepernick in his protests during the national anthem at NFL games.

I guess in relation to China, no one or entity on earth has enough “fuck you” money. LeBron, one of the richest NBA player in history, certainly doesn’t seem to.

Of course, the populace on twitter descended upon LeBron’s blatant hypocrisy, with Boston Celtics player Enes Canter - himself suffering the consequences of speaking out against the Turkish authoritarian regime - putting it best by tacitly pointing out James’ quoting of MLK, yet not living up to those standards. It appears to me an entirely self-inflicted wound: a quick “no comment” from LeBron would have sufficed. For sure there will still be naysayers, but the subsequent furor would be much less and likely subside once basketball season starts. In actually criticizing the substance of Morey’s tweet, James seems to have crossed a line, and the public is not having it.

I believe athletes - or anybody - don’t owe anyone a responsibility to take a position or have an opinion on absolutely everything. If an NBA player doesn’t want to speak on the China situation, that’s completely okay. It’s also okay if a player wants to support China; he just have to deal with the ramifications here in America.

This whole episode is far from over.

iPhone 11 Pro’s night mode is freaking awesome. The power of computation to overcome laws of physics is incredible.

The soft power of China part 3

The NBA’s ongoing scuffle with China in its refusal to outright condemn the remarks made by Rockets GM Daryl Morey has brought back to the surface of other incidences where companies and brands have capitulated to the whims of the communist regime. Noah Smith posted on twitter a list of such companies and their particular acquiescence.

I understand that these brands want to protect the Chinese golden goose: there’s shareholders to answer to, after all, but what I’m not understanding is how seemingly easy these companies are folding to the pressure from China, as if they themselves don’t hold any cards of power. Have they all forgotten about their own intrinsic value? Surely a product’s popularity in China isn’t solely because the government allows it to flourish; the product itself have to be good and desirable in the first place.

If China outright bans the NBA from broadcasting in its country, Chinese basketball fans will find a way to watch it regardless - because it’s a beautiful game. It’s the same reason we see Chinese nationals on twitter, even though the app is banned in China. Companies like Apple should remember a time before they were officially in the Chinese market, when Chinese scalpers traveled over the world to procure iPhones to sell back home. Rich people in China will find a way to buy Louis Vuitton bags even if China bans them from sale.

It’s simple: make something valuable, people will want it. Brands need to remember that they too have power, and removing their products from China via a ban by the government can be equally threatening towards Chinese consumers. Despite what some people have said, the 1.4 billion people of China are not a cohesive monolith; many will want an iPhone no matter what the government’s stance towards Apple is. Don’t forget that speech there is suppressed, and we in the west only hear from those the party want us to hear.

Perhaps the NBA should go: “Fine, we’ll cease our presence in China; sure hope Chinese basketball fans enjoy the CBA!”

Three into one.

The soft power of China part 2

In a surprising (for me) turn of events, NBA commissioner Adam Silver released a further statement late yesterday reaffirming Daryl Morey’s right to free expression, and that the league will not suppress or regulate the speech of its teams and employees. Later on in an interview, Silver recognizes that expression has consequences, but the values of the NBA are non-negotiable.

For a league that’s been pilloried by both sides of the political spectrum for kowtowing to China and seemingly choosing the profitable bottom line over American ideals, the statement by Silver puts a strong rebuttal to those criticisms. Prominent figures within the NBA and its media partners in America have been dancing around the issue to avoid further stoking the ire of the Chinese, so it is good to see the commissioner himself be so unequivocal.

Of course, as Silver himself stated, there are consequences. Apparently China remains unappeased with the situation, and Silver’s remarks is seen from their perspective as defiance. CCTV, the broadcast partner for the preseason games played in China - and de-facto state TV for the communist party, have announced they will no longer be showing the games; more Chinese companies have severed commercial ties with the league. It appears China will not accept any less from the NBA than a sincere apology and the strongest rebuke and condemnation of Daryl Morey: make him persona non grata.

This whole incident, stemming from a simple tweet of solidarity with the Hong Kong people by Morey, is far from over. It’ll be intriguing to see how Silver and the NBA thread the fine needle: uphold the bedrock values of an American company, while repair the damage with China, a country with an obvious different set of values.

The amount of non-Type R Civics I’ve seen with the Type R wing fitted is far too high.

The soft power of China

Daryl Morey, GM of the Houston Rockets NBA team, caused quite the stir this weekend when he tweeted in support for Hong Kong people fighting for their freedom. A seemingly ordinary and inoffensive tweet - for us here in America anyways - set off a negative chain reaction in China, culminating in the Chinese broadcast partner of the NBA to cease any and all operations with the Rockets.

The immense soft power of China was on full display, and in quick succession, too. To go from an “offensive” tweet (keep in mind that twitter is officially banned in China) to then mere hours later a total severing of relationship is surprisingly rapid. It certainly gets results: Morey was (let’s face it) forced to offer a follow-up concession for hurting the feelings of China, and the NBA office released a statement acrobatically apologizing to Chinese basketball fans without outright outlawing Morey’s right to free expression.

It’s amazing to watch all of this unfold. For better or worse, China is now the preeminent super power on this planet. The Chinese market is so lucrative for the NBA that it had to reprimand one of their own for supporting democracy! This is the same league that moved its All Star Game from Charlotte in protest of a bathroom bill, and is widely recognized as the most progressive of the major sport leagues.

I guess money still speaks louder than woke-ness, and when billions are at stake, capitalism will always triumph. Personally I’m not surprised the league groveled to China in such a fashion; let it be a reminder that it’s a machine to make money first and foremost, and the NBA support for progressive causes only goes so far as the impact on league profits. Hating on the orange man at the White House is seen as a positive; criticize anything about China is most definitely not.

Basketball players will speak to power on the treatment of migrants at the Mexico border all day long, but anything to say about the situation in Hong Kong? Not a chance. When actual paychecks are at stake, mouths will shut.

It’s interesting to watch.

991; how appropriate.