SHANGHAI — Joe Tsai expected this week to be about basketball, and watching his Nets play the Lakers before packed houses and huge TV audiences. Instead, he finds himself playing peacemaker.
Houston GM Daryl Morey’s tweet backing the Hong Kong protests started a firestorm in China, with sponsors pulling partnerships and the communist government shutting down a Nets appearance Tuesday.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s ensuing statement fanned the flames even further, with China Central Television and Tencent suspending broadcasts of Thursday’s Nets-Lakers game in Shanghai.
In short, it’s become a full-blown situation. And Tsai – who took time to discuss it with The Post at his Shanghai hotel – is trying to manage it.
“Chinese Central Television just said they’re not going to broadcast our game. It’s unfortunate,” Tsai told The Post. “It’s kind of a day-to-day (situation).”
Silver made a statement Tuesday explaining the league’s position on its relationship with China, intent to build bridges through basketball, and views on free speech.
“It is inevitable that people around the world – including from America and China – will have different viewpoints over different issues,” Silver said. “It is not the role of the NBA to adjudicate those differences.
“However the NBA will not put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees and team owners say or will not say on these issues. We simply could not operate that way.”
With China’s communist government more incensed than ever, it’s unclear whether state-sponsored CCTV and NBA partner Tencent will even air Saturday’s rematch in Shenzen.
“We are strongly dissatisfied and we oppose Silver’s claim to support Morey’s right of free expression,” CCTV said in a statement translated from Chinese. “We believe that any speech that challenges national sovereignty and social stability is not within the scope of freedom of speech.”
Unfortunately fans are caught in the middle, even the youngest ones.
The league had put up courts, donated software, books and equipment at an NBA Cares Learn and Play Center in Shanghai. But the Nets’ appearance for the dedication ceremony at the New World Experimental School got cancelled by the government.
Chinese media reported that the Nets cancelled, when in fact it was the Education Bureau that shut down the event. So Tsai paid a visit to the school in person.
“I went to visit the school to see the principal, told her [in these] unfortunate circumstances they have to do what they have to do,” said Tsai. “The NBA is donating the court, the court is built, but we don’t get a chance to have a dedication. But the good thing is some of the kids are going to get a chance to come watch the game Thursday.”
Presumably they’ll get that chance. The Nets and Lakers are still planning to play, with both games expected to go on – at least for the moment.
“That’s my assumption. Right now from the Nets’ standpoint it’s business as usual,” said Tsai. “We’re here to play basketball, we’re here to entertain the fans and develop our affinity with the Chinese fans. That’s all moving forward.”
Tsai sat with The Post to explain his stance and why the Hong Kong protests have become such a hot-button issue.
“What I’m simply pointing out is how mainland China feels about this issue…It’s definitely a third-rail issue for Chinese people on the mainland,” said Tsai. He firmly believes the NBA is in China to grow the game globally, and is trying not to see this situation stunt that.
“I wanted to make sure that people in China don’t view the NBA as an anti-Chinese organization. I believe the NBA, because of its global nature — a quarter of the players are international…a business that has income from sources all around the world — is an international entity.”