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Daryl Morey’s Tweet Leads to Complex Issues between NBA and China

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If you’re creating a Venn Diagram of people who know and understand international political tensions in southeast Asia and people who understand the NBA at the level of a high achieving NBA general manager, your graphic organizer may end up looking like a pair of owl eyes. That has not stopped many NBA talking heads from going full discussion into the weekend that the Houston Rockets, and in turn the NBA, have had.

To begin to understand the connection between China, the NBA, and the Houston Rockets we need to go back almost two decades to the 2002 NBA Draft. With the number one overall pick, the Houston Rockets selected the 7’6” Yao Ming. Ming’s participation in the NBA required special exemptions from regulations in China, and part of his release to the NBA was predicated on him being the number one overall pick. Ming was the fourth international player drafted number one overall, and the first ever international number one pick that had never played American college basketball (Mychal Thompson, number one overall pick in 1978, was born in the Bahamas but played high school and college basketball in the States, Hakeem Olajuwon played in Nigeria before coming to the University of Houston, and Michael Olowakandi played at the University of the Pacific).

Fast forward to 2019… Fast forward through the hall of fame career of Yao Ming. Fast forward through the growth of the NBA’s Chinese relationship, the six other NBA players drafted since Yao, the annual Chinese New Year celebrations across the NBA, the preseason games playing in Beijing and Shanghai, the scheduled G-League games in southeast Asia… Fast forward to the beginning of October of 2019, while those same Houston Rockets are in Tokyo, spreading the league’s influence while playing preseason games across the Yellow and East China Seas.

While undoubtedly, and understandably, jet lagged and scrolling through Twitter, Rockets GM Daryl Morey saw a social issue worth making statement about.

***

In the spring of 2006 the Houston Rockets, as well as most professional sports franchises, were caught up in the idea of Moneyball. Michael Lewis’ 2003 novel was changing how executives saw building teams. The analytics wave was in its earliest stages, and across the country statisticians were finding their way higher and higher in managing professional sports. Morey was at the forefront of that movement in basketball, and was one of the first openly explicitly analytics driven general managers signed to an NBA team.

Morey has always been at the forefront of data driven basketball, and has navigated his time in Houston accordingly. His biggest move came in 2012. Letting Tracy McGrady walk, and watching Yao Ming’s body break down, left the Rockets in a rebuild. Morey, in the 2012 off season, traded several key “rebuild” players for the reigning 6th Man of the Year James Harden.

James Harden has gone on to finish top two in MVP voting in four of the last five years, in large part, due to the way he embraces “Moreyball.” Finding ways to maximize efficiency, Harden and the team Morey has put around him continue to push the limits of analytic basketball. Critics ridicule Morey’s Rockets for their commitment to threes, dunks, and free throws… but the results continue to have the Rockets in the top tier of the NBA. Harden has become one of the NBA’s most recognizable superstars, both from his playing style and his facial hair.

That style, while it is polarizing in the United States, has continued to make the Houston Rockets a key draw internationally. Houston Rockets players have, since the drafting of Yao, continued to carry endorsement deals worldwide as guys that played with Yao, or as guys that played for the same franchise. Harden himself led an Adidas basketball tour across China this summer, featuring crowds of kids wearing fake beards and red uniforms. The NBA, logically, has become the most televised professional sports league in China. Chinese basketball leagues regularly seek out older NBA players, most famously Stephen Marbury, to play and bring familiar NBA faces to across the Pacific. The Shanghai Sharks, whom Yao Ming has ownership shares of, came through the United States on a preseason tour just last week.

And, with a mere tweet, it seems this entire relationship, nearly two decades in growth, is defunct.

On October 4th, Morey issued a tweet that supported protests in Hong Kong. “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.” Morey deleted the tweet within hours, but the damage may have been done.

The Chinese Basketball Association, and their president Yao Ming, has already suspended relationships with the Houston Rockets. Chinese sportswear brand Li-Ning and Shanghai Pudong Development Bank have also cut ties with the Houston Rockets, and Tencent (a television streaming company) declared they would not air Rockets games.

Now, the NBA’s most popular franchise internationally and its biggest overseas market have officially cut ties over Morey’s single tweet.

Tilman Fertitta, owner of the Houston Rockets for just over two years, has since publicly stated that Morey does not speak for his organization, and the thoughts were his own. Mike Bass, the NBA’s chief communications officer, has also called Morey’s statements both “regrettable” and “not representative” of the league as a whole.

Since deleting the tweet, Morey himself has issued an apology on Twitter. Fertitta, who calls Morey the “best general manager in the NBA,” has claimed that since the public apology, everything between the two are fine.

But what is concerning to NBA fans, stateside, is the backlash Morey received. It has been reported both that the Houston Rockets have debated and not debated letting Daryl Morey go for the commentary, and the sheer thought of letting him go for his political opinions have shaken up much of #NBATwitter.

Political candidates, ranging from obscure senate racers to Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, have commented on the NBA’s actions.

The NBA choosing it’s “pocketbook over its principles,” as Warren put it, makes it far from the first American professional sports league to make its capitalist motives clear. While it feels expected from a business as big as the NBA, it has been a brutal reminder that the same league that is at the forefront of social issues in the United States is still a business. Hurting relationships with its partners is frowned upon, if not more serious.

The NBA, and Fertitta, are left in a tough disciplinary spot. Because of the quick and intense response from the league’s Chinese business partners, the NBA may feel the need to punish Morey or the Rockets as a way to save face.

But where would that bended knee put them with their American fans?

In a time of political turmoil stateside, all sides of the political spectrum have agreed China banning the Houston Rockets puts them in the wrong. Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Texas Congressman and Presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, and the aforementioned Warren span the gamut of political ideology. Each has managed to be unified on this issue: Morey was not in the wrong for vocally supporting the Hong Kong protests, and Chinese businesses cutting ties with the NBA have been in the wrong. On an issue that has oddly united so many American political ideologies, can the NBA really go the other direction?

We have praised Adam Silver’s NBA as the league that supports the individual voice since he came into the league and was immediately hit in the face with the Donald Sterling controversy. In an incredibly tough moment, less than two months into his official tenure, Silver came face to face with one of the ugliest moments in the history of the NBA. His response was simple: that racism wouldn’t be tolerated, and Sterling had to sell his team or be banned from the league.

When the complexities of his current dilemma are completely unpacked, denouncing racism seems like the far simpler task. Now, in a league Silver has been intentionally growing in Asia, Silver is stuck between the American NBA supporter and the region his commissionership has been focused on.

Where the commissioner has been unclear, China itself has been clear in its response. In translating the American response into Mandarin, the translations have consistently emphasized an apologetic tone that feels absent in the original:

Further, Harden, who was the face of the aforementioned Adidas tour of southeast Asia, has already apologized for his team:

This all complicates a very clouded issue. Some parts of the NBA, even the Rockets’ own superstar, have apologized… So does that make it clear Morey was in the wrong, and the NBA should act? Or, does it prove that the NBA can move past it? Does it come down to the dollars and cents of the issue?

The truth is, the vast majority of this only scratches the surface of the intricacies  of growing an American professional sports league in China. There are many, many more layers to unpack (for instance, how did Daryl Morey’s tweet cause a disruption in a country that doesn’t allow Twitter?), but for those following at home, just who can do all of the unpacking? Again, the Venn Diagram circles of people who can confidently talk on the politics of southeast Asia and NBA general managing don’t overlap.

As they seem bound to collide shortly, are they going to overlap like a traditional Venn Diagram? Or bounce off of one another, heading back in their respective directions?

And if Chinese NBA Hall of Famer and Chinese Basketball President Yao Ming are there for to catch the rebound of that sphere on that side of the Pacific, are we confident we can secure the rebound on this side?

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Basketball

Miami Heat Remain Undefeated at Home Behind Jimmy Butler’s Triple-Double Over the Wizards

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Last season, the Miami Heat missed the playoffs by just two games, finishing with a 39-43 record.

The biggest reason for their absence in the postseason was a bad record at home, as the Heat were under .500 with a 19-22 record. Miami hoped to change that this season and set out to win more games in their building.

So far so good for the Heat, as Friday night’s victory over the Washington Wizards improved their home record to a perfect 9-0 this season.

Not only have the Heat improved on their home record from a year ago, but they are off to the best start at home in franchise history. A big reason for all that success is No. 22, as Jimmy Butler has been a breath of fresh air in Miami.

Butler gives the Heat their first real superstar since the Big Three era and he has quickly turned them into a legitimate contender in the Eastern Conference.

Friday night’s performance for Butler included a game-high 28 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists for his second triple-double of the season.

Butler had his first triple double in a Heat uniform on Tuesday, when he led his team to an overtime victory over the Toronto Raptors. Butler outscored the Raptors 8-2 in that overtime period, giving Toronto their first home loss of the season.

While Butler has been great whenever he is on the floor, the biggest asset he brings to Miami is his ability to close games.

The Miami Heat moved to 16-6 with their win over the Wizards and are currently slated for the third seed in the Eastern Conference.

Whether they can continue to win at that clip is yet to be determined but two things have become clear. The Heat have found an identity behind Butler’s play and no one should want to travel to Miami right now.

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Basketball

Bucks Dismantle the Clippers in Potential Finals Preview to Extend Winning Streak

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While the Los Angeles Lakers will certainly have something to say about it, there has been a lot of buzz surrounding a potential matchup between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Los Angeles Clippers in the NBA Finals.

Milwaukee has been pacing the Eastern Conference all season behind the reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, after finishing last year with an NBA-best 60-22 record.

Meanwhile the Clippers have a very deep roster full of stout defenders and a duo of two-way superstars in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.

With all that being said, there was a lot of anticipation going into Friday night’s game between these two powerhouses, but the result did not quite live up to the hype.

The final score ended up being 119-91, as the Bucks just steamrolled the Clippers with ease on their home floor.

Giannis led the Bucks with a game-high 27 points and 11 rebounds, needing to play just 26 minutes of work before sitting down with the win in hand.

This game was special for Giannis for a whole different reason, as it was his 25th birthday. There is probably no better president than a blowout victory against a difficult opponent.

Especially when you are extending your team’s winning streak to an NBA-best 14 games.

This is actually not the first time that these two teams have squared off this year, as they met very early in the season.

In that game both teams entered with a 5-2 record, but the Bucks went home with the victory, beating the Clippers in a close game in the Staples Center.

With Friday’s win, that concludes the season series between these two teams. If the Bucks and Clippers are to meet again, it would have to be in the NBA Finals.

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Basketball

Trail Blazers’ Rodney Hood Out for the Season with Torn Achilles Tendon

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Rodney Hood has been a very solid player for the Portland Trail Blazers this year, starting 21 games at the small forward position.

Hood has provided Portland with exactly what you want for a team with a high volume scoring backcourt, as a great three-and-D wing. Hood was shooting a career-best 49% from three-point range.

Unfortunately Hood’s season just came to a screeching halt, as 27-year-old exited Friday night’s game with what turned out to be a torn Achilles tendon.

Hood went to the locker room following the injury and it was later diagnosed as the worst case scenario for any NBA player.

Hood will now miss the remainder of this season and could miss a significant portion of next season as well, as he recovers from this injury.

Luckily, he does have a player option worth just over $6 million for next season, so Hood will still have a home while he rehabs from this devastating injury.

Hopefully Hood can make a full recovery and enjoy a long career in the NBA.

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