Singapore—The NBA and China don’t often get mentioned in the same context but this week the US basketball league fell into disfavour with the second biggest economy in the world, which all started with a tweet.
First, the general manager of the Houston Rockets basketball team, Daryl Morey, tweeted support for the demonstrators in Hong Kong, one of the bigger thorns currently in China’s side.
While the tweet was taken down swiftly, it resulted in a number of Chinese companies suspending a number NBA licensing deals, as well as a blacklisting of the Rockets, which has been the most popular American basketball team in China, largely due to the drafting of Chinese player Yao Ming in 2002. The team is now disallowed from appearing on state TV. Furthermore, the tweet endangered a billion-dollar partnership between China and the NBA.
The NBA responded by condemning Mr Morey’s tweet, and the Rockets’ GM himself issued clarifying tweets, saying that he “did not intend my tweet to cause any offense to Rockets fans and friends of mine in China. I was merely voicing one thought, based on one interpretation, of one complicated event. I have had a lot of opportunity since that tweet to hear and consider other perspectives…. My tweets are my own and in no way represent the Rockets or the NBA.” However, Mr Morey’s job is said to be on the line because of his tweet.
On the Chinese site Weibo, the NBA released a statement that said, “We feel greatly disappointed at [Morey’s] inappropriate speech, which is regrettable. We take respecting Chinese history and culture as a serious matter.”
Naturally, the China vs NBA issue was widely commented on by pundits and talk-show hosts in the US, including Trevor Noah, on whose “Daily Show” show Malaysian-born and Singapore-educated comic Ronny Chieng makes a regular appearance, and is a senior correspondent.
Mr Noah pointed out that the statement that the NBA released in English was much tamer than its version on Chinese media, for which the basketball league has gotten flack from many, including US officials.
Singaporeans had a laugh at the segment about China and the NBA on Mr Noah’s show, which showed Mr Chieng speaking Mandarin in a true Singaporean accent. The comic took China’s side, and said he wanted to “talk to China directly.”
He then said, “China, don’t pay attention to those idiots. They are weak cowards, and their country smells like chicken nuggets. Getting America’s advice on governing is like getting a dog’s advice to fixing your wifi.”
Mr Chieng also had a laugh at Mr Noah’s expense, saying, still in Mandarin, “I also apologize on behalf of this African fool,” while seemingly allowing him to think he was praising him. “This is Trevor Noah. He is my butler. But sometimes he forgets my ‘No Talking’ rule,” while telling Mr Noah that he said, “You’re my hero and my friend.” He also got the host to say, “I am a fool in Mandarin.”
A netizen on the Facebook page of mothership.sg pointed out what Mr Noah and Mr Chieng were doing. Michael Low wrote, “Actually Ronny is mimicking NBA’s apology fiasco. For those who don’t understand the context…NBA was ridiculed by everyone for their apology. Their 1st English apology statement was very soft while the Chinese translation is very different, acknowledging their mistake and condemning GM Daryl Morey’s tweet… Similarly Ronny Chieng’s English comments sided with the US while his Mandarin comments sided with China. He is actually poking fun at the NBA, not China.”/TISG