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Adam Silver expects stable NBA-China deal despite political issues

/ 07:45 PM July 07, 2021
NBA logos are seen next to a Chinese national flag outside a NBA-themed lifestyle complex

FILE PHOTO: NBA logos are seen next to a Chinese national flag outside a NBA-themed lifestyle complex on the outskirts of Tianjin, China, October 10, 2019. REUTERS/Jason Lee/File Photo

NBA commissioner Adam Silver said Tuesday he expects league relations with China will remain on solid footing despite growing political tensions between the US and Chinese governments.

Speaking just before the start of the NBA Finals, Silver said he expected NBA games would continue to be shown in China and play a key role in cultural understanding between the American and Chinese people.

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“It’s hard to divorce what’s happening with the NBA from larger geopolitical issues between the US and China,” Silver said. “It remains important, particularly when tensions are high between governments, that we foster these sports, educational, cultural relationships.

“It certainly doesn’t mean that we are blessing everything that happens in China by any means. We are at root an American company, and so we follow US government policy.

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“It’s my expectation that we’ll continue to distribute our games in China.”

Silver said he hoped the NBA might be an open door for greater diplomacy.

“That form of engagement is critically important if we’re going to work together to try to resolve some of our issues,” Silver said.

“Those issues include dealing with future pandemics and global climate issues and economic issues and human rights issues.

“They have to begin from a point of discussions directly with each other. To the extent that through sports that’s something that we can at least find common ground on, I continue to believe we can play a positive role.”

The NBA’s ties with China were plunged into crisis in 2019, when Philadelphia 76ers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey, then general manager of the Houston Rockets, tweeted support for Hong Kong protesters.

That drew complaints from the Chinese government and Chinese NBA telecasts were dropped from Tencent for a year, returning for the 2020 NBA Finals.

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On other topics, Silver said he expects the NBA will continue to have play-in games in each conference to decide the final playoff teams despite criticism from LeBron James and other players.

“It’s my expectation that we’ll continue it for next season,” Silver said, noting the players union and team owners must agree to do so. “Overall it was very positive for the league and the players.”

NBA revenues off 33%

Adam Silver NBA

FILE – NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is interviewed before Game Three of the 2020 NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and the Los Angeles Lakers on October 04, 2020. Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images/AFP

Filled arenas for playoff games thanks to COVID-19 vaccines will cut into projected revenue deficits, trimming expected losses from 40% of normal revenues to about 33%, Silver said.

“No question the league will incur significant losses the past two years,” Silver said, calling the “shared sacrifice” for team owners and players “very necessary.”

He added that expansion was not being considered as a way to bring in new funds quickly.

“We’ll continue to look at it,” Silver said. “At some point it will make sense to expand. It’s just not at the top of the agenda right now.”

Regarding injuries, Silver said the league will study reasons why injuries have been on the rise over the past few seasons.

He said it was unclear how much extra rest and load management or a shortened season had reduced injuries in a 2020-21 season condensed to five months from December to May followed by two months of playoffs.

The move, agreed upon by players, increased schedule density but helped ease shared losses for clubs and players and allow for the NBA to hopefully return to a normal time frame for the 2021-22 season.

“It has been an incedibly unique season and a half dealing with COVID-19 and the protocols,” Silver said.

“It has just been an enormous physical and emotional burden on everyone. I have no doubt the additional stress, physical and emotional on them, contributes to injuries.”

Regarding COVID-19, Silver said if the NBA could return to a normal timetable starting in October, “I think we’ll have weathered it very well,” but added, “As much as I want to close the book and say we’ve lived through it, I read the stories on Delta variants and other things.”

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