China’s state-run television network appears ready to air Game 5 of the NBA Finals on Friday night, the first time it has broadcast an NBA game since a tweet from Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey shattered the relationship between the league and the world’s most populous country.
CCTV, which hold exclusive TV rights to NBA games in China, said in a post on its website that it will carry Game 5 between LeBron James’s Los Angeles Lakers and the Miami Heat. The post was translated into English using Google Translate.
Getting games back on Chinese television is a huge step forward in repairing the relationship between the NBA and the Chinese government. It could also impact the NBA to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.
An NBA spokesman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
On October 4, 2019, Morey tweeted a photo supporting Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests. The post, which was later deleted, brought immediate backlash from supporters of the communist government.
The business ramifications were also immediate. Both CCTV and Tencent said they would stop airing games (Tencent later resumed its streams), sponsors dropped the team and the league, and merchandise was pulled from stores. Commissioner Adam Silver said earlier this year that the fallout could eventually cost the league as much as $400 million.
The incident became fodder for U.S politicians on both sides of the aisle—it came amidst President Donald Trump’s broader trade war with China—and has continued in a prolonged stalemate in part because of the NBA’s refusal to have Morey fired.
China is an incredibly important market for the NBA, and has been for decades. The league did its first deal in China with CCTV in the late 1980s before gradually expanded its presence. It was the first U.S. league to establish a footprint in China, and the first U.S. league to host games in the country. The NBA launched NBA China in 2008, and as of last year, had offices in a handful of Chinese cities, including Beijing and Shanghai.
The league has also embraced Chinese businessmen. In 2016, investor Lizhang Jiang bought an equity stake in the Minnesota Timberwolves, becoming the league’s first Chinese minority owner. Joe Tsai, co-founder of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, later bought a control stake of the Brooklyn Nets.