The NBA had yet another mishap stemming from the situation in China today. During a press conference with James Harden and Russell Westbrook, the two major stars from the team at the center of the situation, the Houston Rockets, CNN’s Christina Macfarlane had a question very aggressively shut down.
Popular NBA figures have had a very difficult time responding to questions about the league’s relationship with China, amid the large-scale protests in Hong Kong, and other controversies centered on the country. The league’s two most politically outspoken head coaches, Steve Kerr and Gregg Popovich, declined to really speak up, to the delight of President Donald Trump.
Today, Macfarlane was in the process of asking Harden and Westbrook if they’d hesitate to speak on social issues moving forward, given the international controversy sparked by Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s tweet about the Honk Kong protests. Before either star guard could answer, a team spokesperson shut down the question, stating that the two players would only be discussing basketball.
It is unclear what either player would’ve added to the situation, but the NBA has been trying to walk the extremely fine line of ensuring its members still have the ability to speak openly about issues, while trying to calm the situation with China, which can flip the switch on the league’s access to millions upon millions of potential fans.
Following the Rockets’ presser, the NBA released a statement apologizing to Macfarlane and CNN, and once again stating that it was “inconsistent with how the NBA conducts media events.
From sports media reporter Andrew Marchand:
NBA statement on Rockets not permitting Russell Westbrook & James Harden from answering a question about off the court issues. pic.twitter.com/4GCY83fd5g
— Andrew Marchand (@AndrewMarchand) October 10, 2019
Where just about every other league, from the NFL to the NCAA, has come across as bumbling or distant in response to controversies in recent years, the NBA has set itself apart as being progressive and pro-player, even if it comes at some political risk, especially under commissioner Adam Silver.
This week of controversy proves that the league is far from immune to such issues, and this China situation doesn’t seem particularly close to going away.