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NBA Confirms Return to China Market Despite Controversy

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The NBA confirmed on Tuesday that the double billboard for the opening day of the 2020-21 season will be broadcast in full in China, through Tencent, a partner of the league, and that work is already underway on the scenarios that will allow for a return to competition abroad as of the 2021-22 season.

NBA Assistant Commissioner Mark Tatum said that work is already underway on scenarios that would allow league teams to return to competition in Europe and China once the coronavirus pandemic has been overcome.

This season, except for the possible return of the Toronto Raptors to Canada, which will not happen before March at the earliest, is the only move that can be made regarding competition abroad.

Normally, the NBA has played preseason games in China and is taking some regular season games to Mexico and Europe. This season’s plans called for a game in Paris, although the pandemic forced a postponement.

“We anticipate that once it is healthy and safe to do that, we will return to a pre-season and regular season international match schedule,” Tatum said in a video conference with international journalists.

NBA games were available at Tencent last season even as the league and the Chinese government worked on a very tense relationship.

An October 2019 tweet from then-Houston general manager Daryl Morey showing his support for the anti-government protesters in Hong Kong led to significant consequences.

The biggest was the elimination of NBA games on China’s state television channel CCTV, which has not show any NBA games for a full year.

CCTV put the NBA back on its channel list for the last two games of the NBA Finals, which took place last October.

The NBA’s relationship with China has generated various criticisms from the U.S. Republican wing, as several players, including Lebron James, are strong critics of U.S. policy, but remain silent about the human rights violations occurring in China.

Commissioner Adam Silver said at the All-Star Game recess last February that the league’s problems with China would lead to perhaps as much as $400 million in lost revenue, and that was before the pandemic struck and generated even more losses throughout the league, reaching more than $1.6 billion.

“There’s no question that we have a long history in China, a history of more than 40 years doing business in China, and that we remain committed to people-to-people exchange with the hundreds of millions of fans that we have there,” Tatum noted. “Playing global games has been and will continue to be an important part of how we interact with our fans in China and also in other parts of the world.”

Tatum’s comments came on the day the NBA revealed the breakdown of its international roster for this season; 107 of these players from 41 countries made up the opening night roster, including a record 17 Canadian players and a record 14 African players.

“It’s not just about the quantity of players, but the quality,” Tatum said. “These are some of the best players in the sport of basketball today.”

That list includes two-time NBA Most Valuable Player (MVP), Greek power forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee), Slovenian shooting guard Luka Doncic (Dallas), Serbian power forward Nikola Jokic (Denver) and the Cameroonians, power forward Pascal Siakam (Toronto) and power forward Joel Embiid (Philadelphia).

The NBA regular season is scheduled for mid-May, and the playoffs run from May 22 to July 22. That has generated a lot of speculation about the possibility that NBA players who don’t play in the finals could be in Tokyo 2021, the Olympics that begin next July 23rd.

There are 24 nations, including Greece, Canada, Serbia and Slovenia, scheduled to compete starting in late June for the last four spots in the men’s Olympic tournament. Japan, the United States, Argentina, Iran, Nigeria, France, Spain and Australia have already qualified.

Tatum said the NBA is working closely with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and FIBA, the world governing body for the sport, to ensure that there is “the best possible schedule for everyone involved”.

And the completion of the Olympic rosters may be delayed to allow NBA players maximum time before decisions are made about whether to play or not.

“I expect that our federation, FIBA, along with the IOC, will also work with us on possible adaptations, including in terms of when rosters should be sent out, recognizing that they will have to be more flexible and work with us given the uncertainty surrounding the virus,” Silver said earlier this week.

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