China’s state broadcaster yesterday ended a year-long blackout of NBA games, citing “goodwill” from the US basketball competition following a row over Hong Kong pro-democracy protests.
China Central Television (CCTV) aired Game 5 of the NBA Finals series, where the Miami Heat narrowly beat the Los Angeles Lakers to keep their title hopes alive.
CCTV suspended NBA broadcasts in October last year after Houston Rockets executive Daryl Morey tweeted “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong,” referring to protests that Beijing called separatist and seditious.
The broadcaster, which holds exclusive TV rights for the league in China, maintained its blackout even as Internet giant Tencent resumed online streaming of the games after an initial backlash.
A CCTV spokesperson on Friday said that the broadcaster had “noticed the goodwill expressed by the NBA for some time.”
“The NBA has made active efforts in supporting the Chinese people’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic,” the spokesperson said in a report published by the network.
The NBA commands a huge following in China — its biggest and most lucrative market outside of the US — and the subsequent fall-out has cost the league more than US$300 million in revenue.
NBA executives initially defended Morey’s right to freedom of expression, prompting numerous Chinese business partners and celebrities to cut ties with the league.
In May, the NBA named Michael Ma — the son of CCTV Sports executive Ma Guoli — as chief executive officer of NBA China, setting off speculation that his appointment could mend ties.
Some people in China responded online to the resumption of broadcasts with anger, accusing CCTV of betraying its values.
“Where is your moral backbone, as official media, taking the lead to bow down to foreigners?” one commenter wrote. “The foreigner hasn’t apologized yet, but you have hastily found a reason to lift the ban.”
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