Opinion

The hypocritical response to the NBA and China

We have officially reached the weird stage of the NBA-China controversy. The not-so-woke are criticizing the significantly-more-woke for not being woke enough. People are calling for principled stands against China while typing on their Chinese-made phones and laptops. And Charlotte is getting mentioned in more national NBA stories this week than we expected all year.

Timeout, please.

The NBA has a legitimate mess on its hands right now. One of its most lucrative markets, China, is threatened because Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey raised a Twitter fist in support of protesters in Hong Kong last week. NBA officials proceeded to make things worse at home with a statement that was a little too critical of Morey and a little too careful not to offend an oppressive government. A second statement was significantly better, but by then the light was shining brightly on the NBA’s eagerness to call out injustice here, yet not when it might put big dollars at risk abroad.

That’s where Charlotte comes in. Just three years ago, the NBA pulled its All-Star Weekend from our city in response to HB2, North Carolina’s anti-LGBTQ law. The Woke World was on board with that decision — why bring your event and its revenue to a state that so willingly engages in discrimination? Except now, the same question can be asked about the NBA’s growing relationship with China. Both Democrats and Republicans are noting exactly that, including Donald Trump and Pat McCrory, who was North Carolina’s governor when the NBA yanked the All-Star Game in 2016.

“I see hypocrisy,” McCrory told the Observer this week. “They wanted to involve themselves with North Carolina commerce and an election, while not setting the same standard for China.”

Yes. The NBA deserves the finger wagging coming its way. But protests like McCrory’s have all the moral certitude of a speeder who’s mad because the cop didn’t pull over another speeder. Is the NBA inconsistent with its outrage? Probably. Does that absolve Republicans, including McCrory, of policies that NBA players speak out against? No.

What it does is remind us that we’re all a little hypocritical with the stands we take. We fuss about climate change but shrug at electric vehicles. We drive past Chick-Fil-A because the CEO supported anti-LGBTQ groups, yet put our money in banks with histories of discriminatory lending. Or, we frown with Franklin Graham at Target’s LGBTQ-friendly policies, yet post our family photos on Facebook, an equally pro-LGBTQ company.

Making a statement might be self-satisfying, but it’s not nearly as tidy as we think. Principles are inconsistent, whether you’re typing on a Chinese-made laptop or playing an exhibition game in a Chinese arena. The best defense for the NBA, maybe, is that it tries to take a stand in places those stands can make a difference. That’s what happened in North Carolina, where lawmakers eventually retreated on HB2. The same would probably not happen in China.

Is that a rationalization? You bet. The NBA — along with other companies — should take a harder look at the relationships they have with countries and people who do awful things. So should a lot of us.

Peter St. Onge is North Carolina Opinion editor, leading the Charlotte Observer and Raleigh News & Observer editorial boards. Email: pstonge@charlotteobserver.com
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