A True Profile in Spinelessness

Can there really be any sadder illustration of the moral and ethical bankruptcy of an organization and a brand than what is going on right now with the National Basketball Association?

A simple tweet, by one general manager of one NBA team showing support for the protesters in Hong Kong, has pulled back the curtain on the entire league and its sickening relationship with one of the most totalitarian regimes on the planet.

The way the NBA has handled its reaction to China’s bullying response to that tweet is both a lesson in how not to handle something like this from a public relations standpoint and an exposure of the extent to which the league allows itself to be pushed around by the Chinese.

Yes, we’re sure that Chinese money is oh-so-sweet to the NBA, which is why the league is falling all over itself to assure their financial overlords that the league is fully on their side. This is the side, to be sure, that oppresses its people, throws dissenters into concentration camps, and won’t even allow a small sliver of freedom to a few square miles of territory on its southern border.

It’s one thing to turn a blind eye to all of these things, as so many U.S. and international companies have done for so long. But to willingly choose the oppressor over the oppressed when it comes time to make a public choice is a clear statement that no subsequent public relations or goodwill campaign will likely be able to erase.

The NBA is further embarrassing itself with its latest “we’re all for free speech … BUT …” approach as it attempts to appease both the Chinese money men and its audience in the U.S., most of whom still can clearly recognize the difference between freedom and totalitarianism despite the nice things the league may be saying about China and its “wonderful people.”

There is no doubt that the NBA will hurt itself – irreparably? – in the U.S. and probably will suffer damage in China as well. And in our view, that’s as it should be. The spineless deserve little respect.

How could this have been handled differently? The league could have truly stood behind free speech by its people while still emphasizing its warm relationship with China. That’s a stance that – while imperfect – at least shows a little bit of moral backbone. But the NBA’s approach left no doubt who controls whom in this morality play, and as a result, there are no winners.