Should Taiwanese basketball fans boycott the NBA?

As the NBA fawns over Communist China, can Taiwanese really continue to embrace a league so beholden to their country’s greatest foe?

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KAOHSIUNG (Taipei News) — It seems like almost every week, a new international company, brand, or organization is falling over itself to apologize for hurting the feelings of citizens of the People’s Republic of China.

What this means, of course, is that they have said something that differs slightly from the Chinese Communist Party’s view of the world. This week, it is the turn of two very different American cultural institutions: the National Basketball Association (NBA) and Comedy Central’s animated series South Park.

South Park takes on the CCP

South Park, to their credit, has addressed the horrors of the communist regime head on. The episode entitled "Band in China" features two storylines which highlight the CCP’s malign influence on the world in very different ways.

The first involves the character Randy being arrested for trying to sell weed in China and being sent to an internment camp not unlike the concentration camps in East Turkestan/Xinjiang, where the CCP currently has around one and a half million Uighur Muslims locked up. In the camp, Randy is subjected to numerous abuses and also meets a fellow prisoner: Winnie the Pooh.

The other storyline sees characters Stan, Jimmy, Kenny, and Butters form a metal band which becomes popular enough to be the subject of a movie. But the Hollywood executives involved keep changing the script to make sure it is suitable for Chinese censors, and Mickey Mouse even shows up to ensure Disney characters are playing ball with the CCP.

The episode is a fierce parody of how Hollywood is beholden to the CCP and will compromise on anything to ensure they have access to the Chinese market. The people behind South Park know all too well the consequences, and it is to their enormous credit that they went ahead with the episode anyway.

South Park is now censored in China in its entirety, so Chinese fans who want to watch this episode or any other will now need a VPN or air ticket to a free country to enjoy it.

The NBA kowtows to Communism

The NBA’s position on "offending" China is about as far from South Park’s as is possible. Its saga began with a quickly-deleted tweet from Houston Rockets manager Daryl Morey expressing support for pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong.

Morey’s swift deletion didn’t stop Chinese netizens from jumping on the outrage bus though, and in less than twenty-four hours, the Rockets' Chinese sponsors were scrambling to ingratiate themselves with the CCP by suspending activities with the NBA.

The NBA had the option of letting the matter lie or even defending Morey’s right to free speech. Instead, it chose the cowardly route, issuing a fawning apology to "fans in China," by which it means the CCP.

US-based politicians were quick to criticize the NBA for pandering to the CCP rather than defending American rights and values.

Brooklyn Nets owner Joseph Tsai (蔡崇信) made matters worse by issuing a long statement that might as well have been copied straight from a CCP propaganda cheat sheet. He condemned Hong Kong's democracy protestors as a “separatist movement,” gave a fake, China-centric version of Hong Kong’s history, and patronized Americans by claiming they didn’t understand China’s history.

For Taiwanese fans, the worst bit of his statement was when he described himself as Chinese. Tsai may have been one of the founders of CCP-controlled internet behemoth Alibaba, but he was born in Taipei and is undeniably of Taiwanese descent.

A dilemma for basketball fans in the USA and Taiwan

The NBA’s current Communist crisis creates a big dilemma for basketball fans. Given the USA’s ongoing trade war with China and the security threat the CCP poses to the country, can fans really sit back and let one of their biggest sports leagues pander to the Chinese communists?

They might like to take some inspiration from the fans of the Lyon football club in France. Angered by the kick-off time of their match with Nantes being moved to accommodate a Chinese TV audience, they formed a giant Tibet flag in one stand and held large banners saying “Free Tibet” all over the stadium.

It would be fantastic to see basketball arenas across the USA bedecked with Tibetan, Hong Kong, and Taiwanese flags for the next round of games, and perhaps every game from now on.

In Taiwan, fans face a different challenge. Can those who support their country’s right to self-determination really continue to spend their time and money supporting an institution that is so beholden to their country’s greatest enemy?

Certainly, those who support the Brooklyn Nets must be seriously considering their allegiance after the huge betrayal of Joseph Tsai’s statement and denial of his own country of birth.

Taiwanese Nets fans should already be looking for another franchise to support. If the Houston Rockets hold their nerve and stick with Daryl Morey, they might be a good bet.

But there is now a strong case for Taiwanese basketball fans to turn their backs on the NBA altogether. There are other options out there for those too disgusted to carry on their engagement with this tarnished institution.

Taiwan’s domestic basketball league is thriving, yet its games play out in front of empty arenas far too often. There is also a regional ASEAN Basketball league featuring the Changhua-based Taiwanese team Formosa Dreamers alongside teams from across Southeast Asia.

There is precedent for such boycotts in Taiwan, such as the recent saga over local bubble tea outlets. Certainly, no one would blame fans for taking such a stance again.

While the NBA scrambles to keep its Chinese cashflow going and risks inevitable damage to its brand in other markets, including the USA, it is left to the minds behind South Park to demonstrate the sort of moral fortitude that all Western organizations should be showing in the face of Chinese economic bullying.

Their hilarious, sarcastic response to their show being blocked in China should act as a guide to all future organizations which find themselves in this position, and it is a fitting way to end this article.