NBA-China engagement is positive for United States - Commissioner

(Reuters) - The NBA’s long-standing engagement in China continues to have a “net positive” impact on the mutual understanding between the United States and the Communist nation, Commissioner Adam Silver told CNN on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: Basketball - NBA - Charlotte Hornets v Milwaukee Bucks - AccorHotels Arena, Paris, France - January 24, 2020 NBA commissioner Adam Silver during a pre match press conference REUTERS/Benoit Tessier/File Photo

The NBA has built a reputation as the most socially progressive of the major professional sports leagues in the United States and in the last year has come under pressure to cut its ties with China over its alleged human rights abuses.

“Somebody could say given the system of government in China you, the NBA, should make a decision not to operate there,” Silver said in an interview.

“I would only say that at the end of the day, I think those are decisions for our government in terms of where American business should operate.

“I continue to believe that the people-to-people exchanges we’re seeing by playing in China are positive, and it’s helping. It helps cultures learn about each other. It allows us to export sort of American values to China.”

The NBA’s previously harmonious relationship with the Chinese government suffered a major setback last October when Houston Rockets executive Daryl Morey tweeted his support for Hong Kong protesters.

The league lost millions of dollars in sponsorships over the row and its games were taken off state broadcaster CCTV, which dominates television sports coverage in China.

“We could have decided because they took us off Chinese Central Television (CCTV) that we should ... take our ball and go home and stop operating there,” Silver added.

“The fact is our games continue to be streamed ... and we’ve continued in there. At least that’s my view, that it’s been net positive to not move to disengagement.”

In July, the NBA said it was re-evaluating its training programme in China following allegations of abuse of young players by local staff and harassment of foreign staffers at a facility in Xinjiang.

Silver said the NBA’s relationship with the world’s most populous nation goes back to the late 1970s, when China was all but closed to American businesses.

“As the years have gone on, the NBA has increased its presence in China, but always until very recent history at the encouragement of the State Department, of various administrations, again, from both sides of the aisle,” Silver said.

“It was viewed as a really positive thing that we were exporting American values to China through the NBA.”

Reporting by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by Peter Rutherford