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Senator questions NBA’s relationship with China in letter

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A Republican senator has revived a storyline that dominated the NBA at a time that feels years in the past, but actually emerged only eight months ago.

Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn sent a letter to NBA commissioner Adam Silver on Tuesday that asked multiple questions about his league’s relationship with China, according to Sports Illustrated.

In the letter, Blackburn praises the NBA’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, then goes onto mentioning “concern” about the NBA’s interests in China:

Your league’s business interests are closely intertwined with Communist China’s estimated $4 billion NBA market. While the NBA has worked hard to raise awareness of social issues at home, there is concern that the league has turned a blind eye to human rights abuses committed abroad—even bowing down to pressure last year. The actions of the NBA and some players have created an appearance that your league prioritizes profit over principle. This accusation may be inaccurate; however, I urge you to give it careful thought.

Blackburn’s letter went on to rehash some of the more contentious points of the controversy created by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s tweet in support of a free Hong Kong. That included Brooklyn Nets owner Joseph Tsai’s letter labeling Hong Kong protesters as a “separatist movement,” LeBron James calling Morey “misinformed” and “not really educated” and the relative silence of Gregg Popovich and Steve Kerr on the matter.

The letter ends with Blackburn presenting three questions for Silver to answer, with a July 21 deadline:

1. What are the anticipated financial consequences of China Central Television’s (CCTV) continued ban on the airing of NBA games?

2. Please outline the scope of the NBA’s relationship with Chinese state-owned enterprise Alibaba.

3. The NBA reportedly continues to operate a training center Xinjiang, one of the world’s worst humanitarian zones. What steps is the NBA taking to shutter this location?

The second question is obviously loaded given that Tsai is a co-founder of Alibaba. The third question is something the NBA has never adequately addressed, though we might have received an answer when a sign reading “Google Uyghurs” sign was confiscated at a Washington Wizards preseason game.

That sign referred to the Uyghurs, a Muslim ethnic group that is experiencing mass imprisonment by the Chinese government and even reports of forced organ harvesting. Roughly 1 million members of the group are reportedly held in camps in the Xinjiang region, where the NBA also holds a training center.

Blackburn has frequently criticized China since taking office in 2019. Even the current pinned tweet on her official Twitter account is a montage of her demanding China pay for various atrocities, including “sending” the novel coronavirus to the United States.

Obviously, Silver is already dealing with plenty as his league attempts to return to play despite surging coronavirus numbers and discourse about racial inequality. And yet, it shouldn’t be surprising that some are trying to bring China back into the discussion around the league.

The NBA has a lot on its plate right now. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

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