In recent years, the NBA has become famously political. During the heyday of the Black Lives Matter movement, the NBA permitted players to wear slogan-printed T-shirts in support, and stars such as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul spoke out loudly on the issue.
The Sacramento Kings actually announced a partnership with the local branch of the movement. And NBA players have had little problem denouncing President Donald Trump, whom James called a “bum.” In 2017, Commissioner Adam Silver actually tried to blackmail the city of Charlotte, North Carolina, by pulling the All-Star Game, in an attempt to restore the so-called “bathroom bill” for transgender people.
The NBA has reaped the benefit from its benevolent attitude toward left-leaning social activism, too. Silver, like former Commissioner David Stern, has been praised ad infinitum by the press, compared favorably to that alleged corporate hobgoblin Roger Goodell of the NFL. Silver told CNN just last year that “part of being an NBA player” is social activism and a “sense of an obligation, social responsibility, a desire to speak up directly about issues that are important.” Silver stated the league wants players to “be multi-dimensional people and fully participate as citizens.” He said the league had a role in ensuring that the situation remains “safe” for players afraid of suffering career blowback.
Then the NBA came up against its own corporate interests.
And the NBA caved.
Little over a week ago, Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted an eminently uncontroversial statement: “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong.” That’s about as milquetoast a statement about Hong Kong as it’s possible to make. But that didn’t matter to the Chinese government, which immediately stated that it would cut relations with the NBA and the Rockets in particular. Speculation quickly ran rampant that Morey might lose his job. Morey was forced to delete his tweet and walk it back: “I did not intend my tweet to cause any offense to Rockets fans and friends of mine in China. I was merely voicing one thought, based on one interpretation, of one complicated event. I have had a lot of opportunity since that tweet to hear and consider other perspectives.” James Harden, star of the team, tweeted, “We apologize. We love China. We love playing there.” Silver’s NBA put out an apology in Chinese saying (as translated), “We are extremely disappointed in the inappropriate comment by the general manager of the Houston Rockets.”
So, what happened to all of that corporate do-gooderism? It simply disappeared upon contact with reality. That’s the sad truth of corporate politics: If it takes kowtowing to the Chinese communist government to earn a quick dollar, corporations will do it. Ask Google. Or Hollywood studios. Or the NBA.
All of which gives the lie to the bizarre notion that corporations are handmaidens for capitalist exploitation. They’re not. They simply follow dollars. If they can grab those dollars through cronyism with governments, they will. In fact, that’s easier than retaining a competitive advantage in a free and open marketplace.
There’s a more important point at stake. When corporations virtue signal to the left, they’re doing so for the same reason the NBA just bowed to China: dollars.
The NBA understands that American leftists are far more censorious than conservatives — and that means that openly pandering to the American left earns product loyalty from that political contingent, without serious consequences from American conservatives. It’s not about pure principle for Adam Silver and company — or for any other newly woke corporations discovering their inner social activists. It’s about the green. It always is.