The main basketball story in the world right now is that Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey tweeted his support of the ongoing protests in Hong Kong, the Chinese government reacted by hitting the NBA right where it hurts—in the wallet—and the NBA reacted to that by folding rather spectacularly.
There are more variables in this story, such as the fact that the Houston Rockets have been one of the most popular teams in China dating back to the early 2000s, when it drafted Chinese sensation Yao Ming No. 1 overall. But at its core, as my colleague Tom Ley explained this morning over at Deadspin, that’s what the controversy is: Daryl Morey expressed his free speech, and a bunch of bad faith actors—the NBA and Brooklyn Nets owner and Taiwanese businessman Joe Tsai included—responded as if he’d taken a dump on 1.4 billion people, rather than a very powerful government that’s trying to suppress civil rights in Hong Kong.
As if this entire thing couldn’t get more embarrassing, however, there’s a burgeoning faction on the American right that’s just itching to make this a cause célèbre for their long-running screed against socialism. And while yes, we know that pointing out hypocrisy on the right is a bit of a futile exercise, it’s pretty funny to watch conservatives openly admit they hold the NBA to a higher standard than themselves or even their president.
Here’s Texas Sen. Ted Cruz:
Sen. Marco Rubio, who introduced a bill earlier this year (which passed overwhelmingly) encouraging states to refuse to do business with companies that support BDS:
Florida Sen. Rick Scott demanded a meeting:
And here’s an excerpt from Washington Examiner editor Philip Klein’s column today, which called for an NBA boycott:
Of course, it’s easy for the NBA to be all sanctimonious about speech when it means a star player calling an unpopular American president a “bum.” But when it comes to a general manager having the temerity to tweet “Fight for Freedom,” suddenly Silver cowers and a U.S. sports league has to impose totalitarian China’s censorship rules on one of its executives.
Since, clearly the NBA only values money, above all else, if you care about freedom and are incensed by this decision, then there is only one way to send a message to them — by denying them any of yours.
First, please note that all of this backlash against “totalitarian” and “communist” China (hmm, more like state capitalist at this point, but you can read more about that in my column over at Trot Monthly) comes hot off of the heels of this scene last week, in which President Donald Trump stood on the White House lawn and openly asked the president of totalitarian, communist China to investigate one of his political rivals.
Second, as I alluded to previously, both the Senate and the House overwhelmingly approved anti-BDS measures this year that trample all over free speech. Cruz and Morey’s own state of Texas also already passed one such anti-BDS law, before a federal court ordered an injunction against it and the state narrowed the statute. Ilhan Omar, who was labeled an anti-Semite earlier this year for pointing out the Israel lobby’s influence on American politics, has introduced her own resolution “affirming that all Americans have the right to participate in boycotts in pursuit of civil and human rights at home and abroad, as protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.” A pretty useful exercise here would be to imagine what kind of response Cruz et al would have if Morey had instead tweeted out his support of Omar’s resolution. Probably wouldn’t have been pretty!
Finally, it’s just a sweet bit of irony that conservatives are now mad at the NBA for suppressing Daryl Morey’s free speech, after telling NBA players like LeBron James to shut up and hounding the NFL into a blacklist of Colin Kaepernick for the crime of, well, expressing free speech. As Ley wrote earlier today: “The league cowered in this instance only because the Chinese government actually has the ability to do what thick-necked Americans in Oakleys who like to burn shoes on their lawn wish they could: put a giant hole in the NBA’s business.”
The right only cares about free speech when it’s a serviceable cudgel against socialism and unfriendly governments. The NBA’s response to the controversy has been abhorrent, but its cowardice doesn’t change the fact that the right’s take on this is nothing but crocodile tears.