Basketball

Warriors coach Steve Kerr stays out of China-NBA debate

Chinese basketball fans gather outside of a hotel for a press conference that was later postponed ahead of an NBA preseason basketball game on Thursday between the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets in Shanghai, China, Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019. The NBA has postponed Wednesday’s scheduled media sessions in Shanghai for the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers, and it remains unclear if the teams will play in China this week as scheduled. (AP Photo)
Chinese basketball fans gather outside of a hotel for a press conference that was later postponed ahead of an NBA preseason basketball game on Thursday between the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets in Shanghai, China, Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019. The NBA has postponed Wednesday’s scheduled media sessions in Shanghai for the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers, and it remains unclear if the teams will play in China this week as scheduled. (AP Photo)

For now, Warriors coach Steve Kerr is sticking to sports when it comes to commenting on Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey.

Kerr, arguably the most socially conscious coach in professional sports, hesitated Monday night to jump into the international debate created by Morey's tweet about China that also compromised the NBA's massive business interests in that country.

When asked if he had a reaction to Morey's tweet supporting Hong Kong protesters in their ongoing battle with the Chinese government, Kerr took a pass.

"Actually, I don't," Kerr told the assembled media members at the Warriors' open practice at Chase Center Monday. "It's a really bizarre international story and a lot of us don't know what to make of it. It's something I'm reading about, just like everybody is. But I'm not going to comment further than that.

"What I've found is that it's easy to speak on issues that I'm passionate about and that I feel like I'm well-versed on," Kerr said. "And I've found that it makes the most sense to stick to topics that fall in that category. So, I try to keep my comments to those things. So, it's not difficult. It's more ... that I'm trying to learn."

Nonetheless, Kerr's non-stance made him a target of talk-show hosts on social media.

For Kerr, who's been willingly outspoken on many lightning-rod topics such as social injustices, gun control and pretty much anything to do with President Trump, this was certainly out of character.

"You're not used to me saying that, are you? No comment. You're all stunned," he joked to reporters.

But for the NBA, this is no laughing matter.

China and its hundreds of millions of basketball fans remains an integral part of the NBA's business. After Morey's tweet, CCTV, China's state-run television network suspended all NBA preseason broadcasts, including Tuesday's game in Tokyo involving the Rockets and the defending champion Raptors.

In addition, Chinese tech company Tencent Holdings says it will suspend the NBA's programming on its platforms – the same platforms that attracted a reported 490 million NBA fans last year. To give one an idea of how important Tencent is to the NBA, consider that while 18.3 million fans in the United States watched the Warriors lose to Toronto in Game 6 of the NBA Finals on ABC-TV, there were 21.3 million watching on Tencent.

That massive following is why the NBA and Tencent recently partnered on a five-year, $1.5 billion deal to stream the league's games in China.

Still, after facing heavy criticism for first apologizing for Morey's tweet, the NBA has since stood its ground while standing by the Rockets GM.

Commissioner Adam Silver, who said CCTV's decision was "unfortunate" and hopes to meet with Chinese officials this week, said the NBA will "protect its employees' freedom of speech."

As for protecting its investments in China, the NBA will certainly face some challenges, the types of which may or may not complicate any further response from Kerr.

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