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Slew of NBA’s Chinese sponsors suspend ties

BEIJING, CHINA - OCTOBER 09: A Chinese flag is seen placed on merchandise in the NBA flagship retail store on October 9, 2019 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

An array of NBA China’s Chinese-owned official partners have halted business with the league and its pre-season exhibition games in the country were temporarily in doubt, as the fallout continues from the tweet by Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey.

The Chinese-owned brands that halted business this week include: smartphone maker Vivo, China’s biggest travel website CTrip, dairy products company Mengniu, fast food chain Dicos, skincare brand Wzun, home appliance group Changhong Electric, sportswear giant Anta, China Mobile subsidiary Migu, food and beverage brand Master Kong, car rental company eHi Car Services, home appliance manufacturer Meiling, and financial firm Xiaoying Technology.

Last Friday, Morey sent a quickly-deleted tweet in support of the anti-Chinese government protests taking place in Hong Kong. This week, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver expressed regret over the hurt that had been caused in China, but backed the right to free expression of NBA staff and affiliates.

Vivo has released a statement on social media platform Weibo saying: “Vivo has always insisted on the principle that national interest is above all else and firmly opposes any remark and behavior that constitutes a challenge to the national sovereignty and territorial integrity. Starting today (Tuesday), Vivo will suspend all cooperation with the NBA”. Vivo is a sponsor of the Global Games pre-season tour.

CTrip said it had “dropped all NBA-related tickets and travel products” from its platform. Dicos said it planned to suspend “all marketing and publicity activities” with the league. Wzun said it would “terminate all cooperation with the NBA.” Changhong Electric said on Monday it felt “strong indignation to Morey’s indifferent attitude and refusal to apologise”. Anta said it “firmly opposes and resists all acts to harm the interests of the motherland”.

Some non-Chinese-owned NBA partners are also aligning with the blackout. Clear, a hair-care brand owned by multinational Unilever, has said it would suspend all ties with the NBA in China.

The Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers, who were scheduled to play Oct. 10 in Shanghai as part of the NBA Global Games, ultimately did take the court as planned before a full crowd at Mercedes-Benz Arena.

But the NBA postponed yesterday’s media sessions in Shanghai for both teams, as well as two other NBA events, saying: “Given the fluidity of the situation, today’s media availability has been postponed.” Further pre-game media availability with Lakers and Nets players, or with Silver, was also canceled by request from the Chinese government. And there were no sponsor logos on the court in Shanghai.

Even as the first Nets-Lakers game in China ultimately happened, there was no reference to the that contest on the list of Mercedes-Benz Arena’s upcoming scheduled events. Workers in the city have been taking down outdoor promotional ads for the game. The teams are also scheduled to play in Shenzhen on Saturday. Several Chinese celebrities have said they would no longer attend the games.

An NBA event to benefit the Special Olympics has been cancelled, according to UK newspaper The Guardian. Events for fans have been cancelled, including one to announce plans by the NBA to refurbish outdoor basketball courts in Shanghai, and another where fans were to meet players.