NBA cancels Lakers, Nets media sessions for rest of tense China trip

LeBron James in Shanghai

Here’s a rundown of the latest updates from the developing controversy between the NBA and China.

Saturday’s scheduled preseason NBA game between the Lakers and Nets in Shenzhen, China, will go on as scheduled, but the NBA has canceled all media sessions for the rest of the league’s trip.

“We have decided not to hold media availability for our teams for the remainder of our trip in China,” the NBA said in a statement Friday. “They have been placed into a complicated and unprecedented situation while abroad, and we believe it would be unfair to ask them to address these matters in real time.”

The league made the decision independent of Chinese authorities, unidentified sources told ESPN.

Tensions have been high since Rockets GM Daryl Morey’s now-deleted tweet last Friday supporting anti-government protesters in Hong Kong raised the ire of China, and the fallout has been nonstop since.

Nets and Lakers players were not available to the media after Thursday’s 114-111 Brooklyn win in Shanghai, reportedly at the behest of the Chinese government, after multiple fan and team events had been canceled ahead of the game.

Here’s a rundown of the latest NBA-China news:

Chinese government aims to cool nationalistic anger

After several days of fanning nationalistic outrage, the Chinese government on Thursday abruptly moved to cool public anger at the NBA as concerns spread in Beijing that the rhetoric was “damaging China’s interests and image around the world,” The New York Times reported.

That’s a reversal from earlier in the week, when state-run news outlets and tightly controlled social media platforms were filled with criticism of the league after Morey’s tweet and NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s defense of free speech in the league.

Per the Times:

“Now, the Chinese government appears to be reassessing its campaign against the N.B.A. and dialing down the clamor. The government is already in a bruising trade war with the United States, and a backlash against China could hurt its image in the sporting world ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics near Beijing.”

Even the Global Times, a tabloid considered one of China’s most nationalistic outlets, stopped fomenting populist indignation over the tweet.

“I think this issue will gradually de-escalate — Global Times will not push to keep it hot,” Hu Xijin, the newspaper’s top editor, wrote in an electronic response to The Times’ request for comment. “I also hope the American side won’t make any moves to escalate it.”

NBA apologizes for stopping reporter’s question to Rockets about China

The NBA apologized to a reporter who was stopped from asking Rockets stars James Harden and Russell Westbrook a question about the China situation during a media session in Japan.

During a news conference Thursday after the Rockets-Raptors preseason game in Tokyo, CNN reporter Christina Macfarlane asked Harden and Westbrook if they would “feel differently about speaking out” about issues because of recent events.

A Rockets’ media relations staff member interrupted, saying the players were taking only basketball-related questions.

“A team representative inappropriately interjected to prevent CNN’s Christina Macfarlane from receiving an answer to her question,” the league said in a statement Thursday. “We’ve apologized to Ms. Macfarlane as this was inconsistent with how the NBA conducts media events.”

Steve Kerr responds to President Trump’s criticism

Steve Kerr wasn’t fazed by President Donald Trump’s characterization that the Warriors coach acted like a scared “little boy” when asked about the situation with China.

Kerr, typically outspoken about hot-button political issues, chose not to comment Monday when asked about Morey’s tweet and the ensuing fallout, saying, in part, “It’s a really bizarre international story. A lot of us don’t know what to make of it. It’s something I’m reading about like everybody is, but I’m not gonna comment further.”

Trump’s subsequent description of Kerr’s answer: “I watch this guy Steve Kerr, and he was like a little boy. He was so scared to be even answering the question. He couldn’t answer the question, he was shaking. He didn’t know how to answer the question. He’ll talk about the United States very badly.”

Kerr on Thursday addressed Trump’s criticism, saying he was the “shiny object” for Trump to be mad at that day, “mainly just because it was me.”

“Then you stop and you think, this is just every day. This is just another day,” Kerr said. “I was the shiny object yesterday. There was another one today, there will be a new one tomorrow. And the circus will go on. It’s just strange, but it happened.”

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