The Golden State Warriors grabbed headlines over the weekend, but not because of Stephen Curry’s hand injury or Klay Thompson’s recent return to the court.
Warriors minority owner and billionaire venture capitalist Chamath Palihapitiya drew unwanted attention after saying on The All-In podcast that “nobody cares” about the genocide of Uyghur people in China’s Xinjiang region—an ongoing human rights issue criticized by the U.S. and other countries worldwide. “Of all the things I care about, it is below my line,” Palihapitiya said on the podcast.
The Human Rights Project called his comments “revolting,” while the Campaign for Uyghurs said the comments “were unacceptable and contribute towards an environment of apathy towards one of the greatest atrocities of our time.”
Palihapitiya’s remarks were met with backlash from advocacy groups and politicians including U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and former Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler. Following a firestorm of criticism nationwide, the Social Capital CEO backtracked what he previously said on his podcast and acknowledged that he is a refugee whose family fled from a country with human rights issues.
“I recognize that I came across lacking empathy,” the Sri Lankan-born Palihapitiya, who was raised in Canada and is a naturalized U.S. citizen, said in a statement on Monday night.
The polarizing comments were the latest controversy for the NBA in navigating its delicate business relationship with China. The Warriors responded earlier on Monday by distancing themselves from the incident, stating that he isn’t involved in day-to-day operations and that his views “certainly don’t reflect those of our organization.”
This isn’t the first time an NBA team has had to internally deal with an outspoken member of their organization chiming in on issues in China. Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter Freedom, , called for a boycott for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics and has been vocal in criticizing China president Xi Jinping.
In 2019, the Houston Rockets and the NBA became part of an international flare-up when then-general manager Daryl Morey tweeted in support of Hong Kong protestors. Morey, too, later clarified his comments and said that his tweet was “regrettable,” generating additional heat.
It’s not shocking that the Warriors and the NBA are once again looking to avoid division in their fanbase while remaining impartial for current and future business dealings. The league continues to value the market of 1.4 billion people and has partnerships tied to the mainland, while some of the biggest sponsors for the Warriors, like J.P. Morgan Chase (NYSE: JPM), have heavy investments in China.
This latest issue regarding Palihapitiya’s comments show that any public stance taken on China can invite trouble.
Palihapitiya, who’s SPAC announced on Tuesday that it will take ProKidney public in a $2.6 billion deal, looks like he won’t receive any true disciplinary action and will remain with the ownership group led by Joe Lacob and Peter Guber.