Pacific Dialogue
How Much Is an NBA Ticket Worth in China Now?
By Li Fangfang  ·  2019-10-14  ·   Source: Web Exclusive

The topic for this episode is about Daryl Morey and NBA.

Mr. Morey posted a tweet supporting the violent demonstrations in Hong Kong. The ill-judged tweet sparked an immediate backlash online from the NBA’s Chinese fans. The hashtags with NBA on Weibo, the popular Chinese social media platform, have been viewed over 100 million times with writers voicing concern and anger.

Then NBA Commissioner Adam Silver made the issue worse. He supported Morey and said the NBA adheres to American values, without apologizing to China for the misrepresentation of China’s territorial and internal issue. It conveyed to Chinese fans that the NBA is happy to earn billions of dollars in China but can’t be bothered to respect its customers’ sensitivities.

It is said that the NBA matches in the last season were watched more than 500 million times in China. Chinese fans value the spirit fostered by basketball and trust the league. Just like Mr. Silver said, the power of sports can make a difference. Being a trusted brand, the NBA has the power to hurt its loyal Chinese fans, like no other brand. Shouldn’t such loyalty be valued?

If NBA officials and others don’t know why Chinese fans were so upset, someone has the explanation from their midst. The primary owner of Brooklyn Nets is Joeseph Tsai, a China-born, America-educated businessman. Mr. Tsai posted an open letter on his Facebook account, explaining why Morey’s tweet offended the Chinese.

There are certain topics that are third-rail issues in certain countries, societies and communities, he said. The territorial integrity of China, he explained, is a third-rail issue because of China’s history of being invaded and separated.

People like Tsai and Dunham, who are relatively informed and rational, can understand the situation while those who are prejudiced, consciously or unconsciously, will fail to do so. But while it may be hard to understand a different set of values, people can at least try to just “shut up and listen,” which, ironically, is also the title of Houston Rocket boss Tilman Fertitta’s latest book.

When it comes to China-related issues, some media in the United States always portray them as violation of the freedom of expression. They should understand that there is true freedom of expression and then, there is also free expression without any knowledge or ground, which is just empty noise.

The Morey-NBA issue is not a problem of freedom of expression but a problem of the huge gap still separating two cultures. Like other globalized brands, Mr. Morey and the NBA need to spend some more time knowing and understanding their targeted consumers in China. And for the Chinese, it’s a good opportunity to understand how the American mind works and what’s the best way to communicate.

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