Chinese officials have opted to cancel broadcasts of NBA pre-season games in Shanghai involving the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets in protest against a controversial tweet posted by Daryl Morey, general manager of the Houston Rockets. Mr Morey was tweeting in support of the anti-government protestations in Hong Kong, which did not go down well in the People’s Republic, who have since plunged the NBA’s carefully nurtured China franchise into chaos.
The state television network, China Central Television (CCTV), took the decision to take the pre-season clash between the Lakers and the Nets off-air both online and offline. Officials at CCTV confirmed it would “immediately investigate all cooperation and exchanges involving the NBA”. The NBA’s commissioner, Adam Silver, has touched down in the Far East ahead of the NBA China games and insisted that while he would not apologize directly for Daryl Morey’s tweet, he would do his utmost to ease the tensions and maintain a “many-decades-long relationship”.
China is the second-biggest market for the NBA
Even the Chinese government would find it hard to deny that the NBA has become a very big deal in the People’s Republic. These pre-season games have become something of a ritual for the NBA franchise, with at least two teams heading over to China to train for 13 of the last 14 seasons. It seems somewhat ironic that it was the general manager of the Houston Rockets that would create new tensions with the Chinese. That’s because the Rockets used to have a Chinese superstar of their own in the shape of Yao Ming, who joined the Rockets back in 2002.
During Ming’s seven-year spell in Houston, the franchise quickly became “China’s team” in NBA, with millions in the Far East tuning in to watch. Unfortunately for Houston, it’s a very different story right now, with the team’s merchandise having been removed from a raft of Chinese e-commerce platforms, while all leading Chinese sponsors linked to the Rockets have since suspended their partnership deals. The furore won’t just hit the Rockets’ coffers either; it’s likely to affect the entire NBA organization too. That’s because on-demand streaming platform Tencent are in the midst of a five-year streaming deal that earns the NBA north of $1.5 billion. Any sign of a break in that contract could be damaging to the game.
The leading contenders for the 2020 NBA Championship
On the other side of the world, the 2019-20 NBA season begins in earnest on October 22, with much enthusiasm about the North American coverage this season, regardless of what goes on in the Far East. Fans are growing particularly excited especially now that some betting sites are offering a wide range of markets on the likely contenders for the NBA Finals next June. If the sportsbooks are to be believed, it could well be a straight fight in the city of Los Angeles for the 2020 NBA Championship crown. The LA Clippers are the narrow favorites in the pre-season period, followed closely by near neighbors, the LA Lakers.
Much of the Clippers’ success will rest on the form of the duo, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. The pair are a mouth-watering addition to a roster that comfortably made the 2019 NBA playoffs. As an imposing outfit, the Clippers will surely have to be severely hampered by injuries to fail in their bid to prevail next summer. Of course, their city rivals will have something to say about that. They had to swallow missing out on Kawhi Leonard in the close season, but Anthony Davis is equally as big a coup for the Lakers as Leonard. If the Lakers manage to squeeze into the playoffs, you’d be hard pressed to bet against LeBron and co.
Potential outsiders for a tilt at the NBA Finals next year include the Philadelphia 76ers and the Milwaukee Bucks. The 76ers are hopeful of being strong in the Eastern Conference this term, with a lot hinging on the performances of Ben Simmons. Meanwhile the Bucks, who had the best record in the NBA in 2019, will again pin their hopes on Giannis Antetokounmpo – someone who has been an inspiration to the up-and-coming rookies in the college game. The Bucks also have the defense to comfortably reach the playoffs at the very least.