Twitter cost NBA with China

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Many years ago when I was learning how to drive, my grandmother used to remind me that a car should be treated as a weapon.

As a budding journalist, she would also remind me that words were to be treated the same way. That what you say and do has consequences.

Smart lady.

I bring this up because as the NBA season tipped off Tuesday, it found itself in a preseason firestorm thanks to seven words spoken by one of its employees in the form of a tweet.

The NBA has always been at the forefront of professional sports in allowing its employees to have freedom of expression. Players, coaches, and yes, even general managers have been known from time to time to say what was on their mind and in their heart. Whether it’s social injustice, political discord or just standing up for what you believe in, the league usually doesn’t censor its employees.

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But when it impacts the bottom line, it can create some issues. And that’s why what Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey said in his Tweet about Hong Kong had a tsunami effect on his company the likes we haven’t seen in professional sports.

When Morey sent out his tweet Oct. 4 which said: “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong,” it probably wasn’t with the idea that he would anger an entire nation and jeopardize the business his company conducts with a country.

Yet there it was. Morey’s tweet struck a raw nerve with China’s government. And with the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets in the country to play two preseason games, it threw the NBA’s relationship with China into a mess.

The league reportedly does $4 billion in business with China. It has offices in Beijing and Shanghai. People love basketball in that country. NBA games on state-run TV do boffo ratings. And I’m willing to guess that while there are no sportsbooks per se in China, there’s probably a ton of betting done on the NBA.

Commissioner Adam Silver got caught in the middle of it and he did not come out looking good. He had to defend Morey’s First Amendment right to freedom of speech as an American. He also has 30 owners to answer to, including Joseph Tsai, the owner of the Nets who is from China.

Tsai was understandably peeved by Morey’s remarks. And it led to an uncomfortable situation given his team was in China to play the Lakers. The league wound up self-censoring its players and coaches. Press conferences were canceled. Media access was denied. It ran contrary to everything the NBA prides itself in.

Once home, LeBron James said the situation wasn’t handled well and he caught hell for it. His tweets were called into question.

Could all of this have been avoided? Maybe.

Most major companies have a policy pertaining to social media. When I worked at the Review-Journal, there was a policy about how to deal with all social media platforms — Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and others. It made it clear where the line was and where you couldn’t cross it.

All employees were expected to adhere to the policy. If you didn’t feel comfortable with it, no one was forcing you to work there. But if you did, you were expected to follow the company’s mandate.

I don’t know if the NBA has a social media policy. I’m guessing it does. But the protests in Hong Kong have been going on for five months and the league knew for months it was playing the two games in China.

Perhaps a memo from the league office regarding China and Hong Kong, pointing out the sensitivity of the situation and some guidelines for NBA employees, in which Morey is one, could have prevented all of this.

At Gaming Today, we don’t have a company policy regarding social media. Virtually all our writers are independent contractors and we can’t be expected to tell them how to live their lives. If someone wants to use profanity in a Tweet or post porn on Facebook, there’s not a whole lot we can do to prevent it. We remind them that they represent us and we ask they use good taste and common sense when on social media.

Could we stop doing business with individuals who don’t share our views? I suppose we could if it got to the point where it hurt our brand. And yes, we’ve had to reel in individuals from time to time who we thought pushed the edge of the envelope.

The NBA is no different other than its employees are full-time and there are probably guidelines in place that must be adhered to in order to remain employed there.

Weapons are not permitted in any NBA arenas, locker rooms or when teams travel. And remember what my grandmother said: words, like a gun, can be a weapon.

In this case, Morey’s words, innocent as they may have appeared to be, resulted in some financial bloodshed for his employer. And while not appearing to be fatal, it may take time for the wounds to heal.

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About the Author

Steve Carp

Steve Carp is a six-time Nevada Sportswriter of the Year. A 30-year veteran of the Las Vegas sports journalism scene, he covered the Vegas Golden Knights for the Las Vegas Review-Journal from 2015-2018.

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