An NBA game happened in China on Thursday. Superstars played like superstars, two key players left early due to injury, and a late comeback led to an exciting finish, completed by a game-sealing dunk and a final possession with a possession. And nobody really cared about any of it.
Pre-season play only plays so much; your mind always moves to something else as you look. That was really true in Thursday's showdown match between the Lakers and the Nets in Shanghai, although my thoughts wandered far beyond things like how long it will take a star-free agent to develop court chemistry with his new teammates. It was impossible to watch Thursday's game ̵
Regular basketballs happened. Dwight Howard donned his pants . Anthony Davis often looked invisible, at least from a smaller Nets front line. LeBron James got 20 points in 26 minutes while he barely seemed to break a sweat.
Kyrie Irving got popped in the face by Rajon Rondo less than a minute into the game, which aggravated his last facial fracture . Shortly afterwards, Caris LeVert got to play in the eye of Davis. Both Irving and LeVert left the game and did not return, which means Brooklyn began backcourt traveling all the way to China, turning into a massive socio-political combustion to play a total of two minutes and 34 seconds.
There were other things to talk about, but none of it was anywhere near as remarkable as the overall weirdness of watching a competition presented as a regular ol basketball game without mentioning why it wasn't. When the players ran out in transition and tracked back on defense, they did not mention the lack of sponsor signals on the field. Employees at Mercedes-Benz Arena reported released the company logo after several sponsors withdrew their support for the festivities following Morey's since-deleted tweet and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver's statement supporting "freedom of speech" for league employees. (A theory that makes the rounds, according to Marc Stein of The New York Times : China did not partially cancel the exhibition because it wanted the NBA "to see what a sponseless game [with money withheld] looks and feels like" like. ")
After the Nets finished a 114-111 victory, we didn't hear from Brooklyn coach Kenny Atkinson about how well Spencer Dinwiddie and Dzanan Musa ran the team after Irving and LeVert went down. a few plays short, we didn't hear LA coach Frank Vogel praise JaVale McGee's work on the glass, or advocate for optimism that his team's perimeter defense could improve after the Nets shot 20-for-41 from 3-point range. for as ESPN reported, "About three and a half hours before the tipoff, an NBA spokesman informed reporters that there would be no media access of any kind for any of the teams, and Commissioner Adam Silver has previously scheduled pregame news conference was canceled "- depending on the Chinese government's request.
For some, the NBA's consent to the interruption of all accessibility in the media says due to an authoritarian government. It's possible that the league looked at it as something of a small mercy – a chance to get out of town without any more on-the-record comments in the still-roiling crap storm for another day or so. Maybe the league office doesn't mind taking a break as it tries to find out some sort of unified theory of how to approach all of this, which now includes domestic quagmire as the rising prevalence of Hong Kong protest-related signs of US NBA arenas over the the last days, and the removal of fans branding them . The longer this goes on, the more questions the league has to answer.
Talk about questions: As the fourth quarter was underway in Shanghai, James Harden and Russell Westbrook spoke to the media in Saitama, Japan, after their Rockets struck the Raptors, 118-111, in the second of their two meetings as part of of this year's NBA Japan Games exhibition slate. Things got interesting when a spokesman intercepted an inquiry from CNN International reporter Christina Macfarlane about whether the two former league authorities still felt comfortable talking about social and political issues after all that arose this week:
Journalist becomes quickly shut down when she asked James Harden, Russell Westbrook if they would refrain from talking about politics / social justice after China's failure … pic.twitter.com/VkXSWo0N0s
– gifdsports (@gifdsports) October 10, 2019
Withdrawal of a sports-to-sports policy and stonewalling of a legitimate issue by a reporter seems like a bad idea. After all, didn't Silver just torment in his statement on Tuesday to make it clear that the NBA supports the right to free expression for everyone under his umbrella? (For what it's worth, the NBA released a statement later on Thursday saying that the Rockets' representative was properly aligned to prevent "Macfarlane from getting a response, noting that the league had" apologized to Macfarlane as this was incompatible with how the NBA conducts media events. ")
It shouldn't be up to Harden and Westbrook – or James or Irving or any other player – to fix this mess. That responsibility should fall to the league office, the commissioner and the board he works for. Players should be free to set the questions they choose and answer in whatever way they feel most comfortable, even if it is with a "no comment."
Then again: Doing as opens the door to players who are shaved over the coal by commentators on all stripes to play it safe and stay mum to protect their own brands and international business interests. It is worth noting that was not a league office paint that stifled the issue at Rocket's press, but rather a PR person from ; the league "will not put itself in control of what players, employees and team owners say or will not say about these issues," per Silver, but it will not have to if they control themselves. You can imagine your players – especially maybe Harden, who went out to apologize to China on Monday after the imbroglio broke out – would see some value in having their public relations departments act as shields here, at least until things die down. Or fail at it, at least until they return to North America.
For the rockets and birds of prey, that return is imminent; their grip on Japan is complete, and they can try to come back to spring as usual. However, for the Lakers, Nets and NBA players in China, a return to the states is still a ways away; the two teams are scheduled to play again in Shenzhen on Saturday. A league official told ESPN's Dave McMenamin that he "was unsure if the same media ban would be in place then," but based on the sound, we will do all this again in two days – if not, of course, any drastic changes in the NBA: s decision calculation.
For years, the NBA has presented its Global Games trips as a celebration of its efforts to further increase interest in sports and a recognition of the unbound passion that people have for basketball all over the world. For many years, the celebration and recognition came without a closer examination of what is included in the fine print terms of service that underpin this type of global expansion.
However, this is no longer possible. The NBA's annual international parade is now haunted by the spectacle of a gigantic international story that everyone is talking about, though no one is really so willing to talk about it. These big showcase events, with some of the most famous players in the world, now have almost nothing to do with stars or acting; they are about what you can and cannot say, what you should say, and about some of the most powerful people in sports even want to talk at all if it puts the bottom in danger.