The NBA appears to have made a U-turn after fans discovered they were unable to order customized jerseys with ‘Free Hong Kong’ printed on the back.
A viral video had exposed the league’s apparent aversion to the political sentiment, while its online jersey creator allowed for ‘Free America’, ‘Free Canada’ and ‘Free Mexico.’
Hours after the discovery was made, the officially partnered NBA store on Fanatics.com began allowing for ‘Free Hong Kong’ to be printed on jerseys.
The NBA was roundly criticized on social media for the inconsistency amid renewed claims it is bowing to its communist paymasters in Beijing.
It is the latest rumbling in a row which started last week when Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) wrote an open letter to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver which accused the league of hypocrisy in its stance towards social justice.
A viral video had exposed the league’s apparent aversion to the political sentiment, while its online jersey creator allowed for ‘Free America’, ‘Free Canada’ and ‘Free Mexico’
The email was titled ‘Senator Hawley Blasts NBA for Kowtowing to Beijing & Refusing to Support U.S. Military and Law Enforcement.’
Hawley took issued with the NBA’s ‘apparent decision to strictly limit messages players can wear on their jerseys to a few pre-approved, social justice slogans while censoring support for law enforcement officers or the military and any criticism of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).’
LeBron James from the Cleveland Cavaliers prepares to shoot against the Orlando Magic during their NBA China Games 2007 exhibition basketball match which was won by Orlando 90-86 at the Qizhong Stadium in Shanghai. China represents an extremely lucrative market for the basketball league
Last Thursday, ESPN revealed that the NBA will permit players to write social justice-themed statements and messages on their uniforms during the upcoming season.
The NBA and the players union agreed on a list of messages that can be chosen to be displayed above the numbers on the back of their team uniforms.
The list includes phrases like ‘Black Lives Matter’; ‘Say Their Names’; ‘Vote’; ‘I Can’t Breathe’; ‘Justice’; ‘Peace’; ‘Equality’; ‘Enough’; ‘Ally’; ‘Anti-Racist’; and ‘How Many More.’
Senator Hawley’s email sharing his letter blasting the NBA prompted a furious ‘F**k you’ response from ESPN reporter Adrian Wojnarowski.
Wojnarowski was swiftly reprimanded by the broadcaster and suspended from his duties.
‘I was disrespectful and I made a regrettable mistake, I’m sorry for the way I handled myself and I am reaching out immediately to Senator Hawley to apologize directly,’ wrote Wojnarowski.
ESPN also condemned the response and said ‘it is inexcusable for anyone working with ESPN to respond in the way Adrian did to Senator Hawley.’
‘We are addressing it directly and specifics of those conversations will remain internal.’
Lebron James, among other players, backed Wojnarowski with a #FreeWoj hashtag which was trending on Twitter.
But Senator Hawley dismissed the NBA’s apology and claimed the debacle was simply a distraction to the more important issue of China.
Senator Hawley wrote: ‘Don’t make @wojespn apologize. He’s just saying what he really thinks. Call out the @NBA. You know, your job.’
ESPN NBA reporter Adrian Wojnarowski (left) was reportedly suspended on Saturday after replying to an email from Sen. Josh Hawley (right) ‘f*** you’
The NBA and the players union agreed on a list of messages that can be chosen to be displayed above the numbers on the back of their team uniforms. On Twitter, Hawley wondered why the league wouldn’t include statements like ‘Support our Troops’ or ‘Back the Blue.’
Hawley, a Republican, sent a letter to NBA commissioner Adam Silver on Friday with the subject line saying ‘Senator Hawley Blasts NBA for Kowtowing to Beijing & Refusing to Support US Military and Law Enforcement.’ Two minutes later, Wojnarowski responded on his ESPN account from his phone with two words: ‘F*** you.’
The National Basketball Association and the league have discussed methods to promote messages of equality and police reform since the death of George Floyd prompted nationwide and worldwide protests.
But the league’s embrace of Black Lives Matter and its support for protests against police brutality have been criticized by conservatives who accused the teams and players of capitulating to China over similar statements of support for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
The league has outlawed any social justice phrases that pertain to China after Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey received backlash from the NBA’s Chinese partners last fall for tweeting support of protesters in Hong Kong.
The NBA backed Morey’s free speech rights, but the remark caused an icy situation with China for the league with a financial fallout estimated at $400million by Silver.
Hawley responded to ESPN, saying he didn’t want an apology from Wojnarowski. Instead, he urged the network to ‘call out the NBA’
ESPN also released a statement on Friday saying Wojnarowski’s behavior was ‘unacceptable’ and ‘inexcusable’
Wojnarowski posted an apology on his Twitter page saying he was ‘disrespectful’ and that he ‘made a regrettable mistake’
Silver said Chinese officials wanted Morey to be fired for his tweet supporting anti-government protesters in Hong Kong, and the league emphatically dismissed the request.
Silver also said that the league is already feeling ‘substantial’ financial losses because of the Chinese reaction to Morey’s deleted tweet.
‘Obviously, we made clear that we were being asked to fire him by the Chinese government, by the parties we dealt with, government and business,’ Silver said Thursday during an appearance at the Time 100 Health Summit in New York.
‘We said, “There’s no chance that’s happening. There’s no chance we’ll even discipline him”.’