CNN reporter Christina Macfarlane tried to ask NBA stars James Harden and Russell Westbrook of the Houston Rockets about speaking out on “political and societal affairs” in the wake of the most recent China
scandal. But the league was having none of it and quickly shut her down.
What did she ask that was such a problem?
The NBA has been dealing with an
ongoing imbroglio after league officials, owners, and players fell over themselves apologizing to the Communist government of China after Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted support for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
One of the players who quickly bowed to the China regime where the NBA is most popular sports league was the Rockets’ own Harden. He not only apologized to the country that currently oppresses its own people and people in Hong Kong, he also went on to declare his — and the league’s — love and praise for the Communist nation:
We apologize, you know. You know, we love China. We love, you know, playing there. I know for both of us individually, we go there, you know, once or twice a year. They show us the most important love. So, you know, we appreciate them as a fan base, and we love everything, you know, thereabout. And we appreciate the support that they give us individually and as an organization. So, uh, you know, we love you.
The NBA called the consternation caused by Morey’s tweet “regrettable.”
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver weighed in eventually with a convoluted statement that ultimately said that Morey has freedom of speech, but he shortly thereafter got on a plane to go to Shanghai to try to mend fences with China.
China, however, remained determined to flex its muscles even after the many apologies. So the state-run China Central Television canceled the broadcasts of NBA preseason games.
The NBA has long been known and praised for allowing — even encouraging — its players to speak out publicly on important social issues, so the fact that many players and NBA-connected personnel have chosen not to speak on the abuse of Hong Kong citizens at the hands of the Chinese government raised questions.
It was in this light that Macfarlane asked Harden and Westbrook, “The NBA has always been a league that prides itself on its players and its coaches being able to speak out openly about political and societal affairs. I just wonder, after the events of this week and the fallout we’ve seen, whether you would both feel differently about speaking out in that way in the future?”
Before either player could answer, a media handler jumped in and said, “Excuse me. We’re taking basketball questions only.”
Macfarlane responded, “It’s a legitimate question. This is an event that’s happened this week during the NBA—”
The off-screen handler interrupted, saying, “I understand, but the question has been answered.”
But Macfarlane wasn’t done. “This particular question has not been answered.”
She then redirected the conversation back to Harden, saying, “James.”
However, Harden remained silent on the issue, while Westbrook looked down at his phone.
Interestingly, in a news conference immediately preceding the one with Harden and Westbrook, Macfarlane had asked Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni about the controversy and whether he had a message for Chinese fans who might have felt let down by the league.
D’Antoni deflected, saying that Silver spoke for the league and that he backed him on those comments.
When Macfarlane noted that Harden and other members of the Rockets had spoken out, D’Antoni responded, “Well, then, good. He’ll be in in a few minutes and you ask him.”
The coached added, “Hey, I coach basketball. I’m not a diplomat.”
Despite D’Antoni’s recommendation that Macfarlane ask Harden about the comments, the NBA and Harden weren’t about to budge.