Nike and the NBA kowtow to Beijing


Graphic by Graham Wood '20

Nike and the NBA fail to show support for Hong Kong protesters in order to uphold their prestige in Chinese markets.

Graham Wood '20, Staff Writer

While American media focuses its attention elsewhere, the protests in Hong Kong continue to rage as violence escalates. While the West and the United States should support the Hongkongers in their fight for democracy, American companies have sold out to China and have left behind American values for Chinese markets. 

Daryl Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets, brought this issue to the forefront on Oct. 4 when he posted a tweet saying, “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong.” 

Beijing didn’t appreciate Morey’s comment, causing Morey, the Houston Rockets and the NBA to come under heavy fire from the Chinese government. All broadcasts for NBA preseason games in China were cancelled by the government, and the NBA received calls from Beijing to fire Morey. 

The major problem with this feud wasn’t the response by Beijing, but the response from the NBA. The NBA initially responded with a letter in two translations, English and Chinese, although the message wasn’t the same. 

The Chinese version stated that the NBA was “extremely disappointed” in Morey’s comment which they labeled “inappropriate,” (apnews) while the English version said no such thing. As the NBA depends on a massive basketball market in China, their priorities are clear with this message, considering it was only meant to be read by the Chinese.

As the 2019 NBA finals reached 21 million views in China (Whalen, et al), topping viewership in the U.S., the NBA has a considerable incentive to please their Chinese viewer base. However, that is not an excuse to be a bystander in Hong Kong’s struggle for democracy. 

The one country, two systems Beijing policy was established in 1997 after the British ceded Hong Kong to the Chinese. This policy is supposed to last until 2047, but in reality, “one country, two systems” is being disrespected by Beijing time and time again.

Even though the NBA is beholden to Chinese markets, there is one American company that the NBA always answers to: Nike. While the NBA is an $8 billion company, Nike is a $40 billion company with an enormous market in China.

Considering Nike holds a 93% share of the basketball shoe market in the U.S and is the biggest basketball clothing supplier in China (statista), Nike is very concerned about their image among the Chinese government and people.

That’s why when the Japanese-Nike partnered streetwear label, Underground, faced criticism for showing support for no extradition bill in Hong Kong, Nike pulled all of their sneakers made with the label from China (Toh, et al).

The essential takeaway comes to this: We know American companies have large markets in China and they have a mission to please their consumers. But at what point are these companies willing to step back and stand up for what is right? 

American citizens and the world have watched as China rapidly developed from a sealed and poor nation to an economic powerhouse. As China adopted free market policies they left democracy behind, and this is the greatest challenge for companies doing business in China. 

Either companies kowtow to China’s authoritarian government, or they stand up for democracy and the American values we hold sacred. As China grows and further integrates itself in the world’s global economy, this issue will not dissipate but will become more and more prevalent.

I ask Nike, the NBA and all other American companies and organizations working in China to take a step back and stand up to the evils of China’s authoritarian regime. Otherwise, the West will become apathetic or even complicit in the evils of China’s government.

The situation in Hong Kong exemplifies the fragility of democracy. In America, we take free speech and other core parts of Democracy for granted, while in places like Hong Kong, these freedoms are liquid and they can be taken away. Americans have become accustomed to our democratically afforded rights, as we see them as an inherent part of our lives. It’s hard for us to fathom life without them –because we have never lived without them.

Considering the Hongkongers have been suffering from widespread police brutality and their democratically afforded rights are slowly being constrained, Americans should stick up for the Hongkongers.

America has always considered itself the most free country in the world. We look to spread our ideals, values and our system of democracy around the globe, yet why are we not doing more to stick up for democracy in Hong Kong?

It’s utterly ridiculous that the bogus Trump impeachment inquiry continues to consume the American political discussion, even though the democractic society that has existed for 177 years in Hong Kong is dissolving.