NBA-Tensions between China and NBA are ‘water under the bridge’ – Nets owner

By Thomson Reuters Feb 23, 2024 | 5:22 AM

By Josh Ye

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Joe Tsai, owner of the Brooklyn Nets basketball team, said the NBA is “in a very good place” in its relationship with China, four years after Beijing took games off air following remarks about the 2019 Hong Kong protests by a team executive.

At a sports convention in Macau on Friday, Tsai said the U.S. basketball league and China, home to 300 million NBA fans, have mended their relationship.

Beijing suspended the broadcast of NBA games in 2019 after Daryl Morey, then general manager of the Houston Rockets team, tweeted in support of anti-government protests in Hong Kong. Chinese state television only resumed broadcasting games about a year later.

“I think the NBA is in a very good place with respect to its relationship with China,” said Tsai, who is also the chairman of Chinese tech giant Alibaba Group. “China is actually the NBA’s biggest fan base. So what happened before, I think it’s water under the bridge.”

The NBA would “love” to bring the games back to China and Macau, he added. “I think just having the fans have real, in-person sort of interaction with the stars. I think that’s going to be important.”

The NBA used to organise pre-season games in China before the 2019 incident but these have yet to resume.

U.S. sports organisations have in recent years found themselves in tough positions when issues involving executives and players have enraged Chinese fans and escalated into diplomatic spats.

This month, Argentina soccer great Lionel Messi, who plays for Inter Miami, became the subject of massive criticism in China after he did not play in a match in Hong Kong which the Hong Kong government heavily marketed.

Messi said earlier this week that he did not play due to injury concerns and had not missed the game for political reasons as some fans had speculated.

(Reporting by Josh Ye; Editing by Toby Davis)