Dave Hyde: NBA loses its voice like every company wanting Chinese money

There were many of us – and we've been saying it for years – who considered NBA figures such as Steve Kerr, Gregg Popovich and LeBron James as welcome voices of a new social conscience in sports.

Now they look like cogs of another corporation backtracking on ideals for the ATM machine of China. And that's fine. It makes them no different than any other corporation in America.

It's certainly nothing for staged anger from politicians like former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

"Disgusting," Rubio said of the NBA's fragile handling of Houston general manager Daryl Morey's simple tweet this week.

"Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong," Morey tweeted.

Who knew seven words of common sense, quickly deleted, could spark an international incident?

It has been a loud, messy, confusing, complicated and utterly wonderful moment of a free, capitalist society intersecting with China's totalitarian regime. It's not a moment, actually.

It's an era that began with American corporations pretending not to notice how dissidents were discarded and human rights were violated in their compromise to use the 2008 Beijing Olympics as an entry to China's market.

Companies from Nike to Starbucks, Apple to Visa, made the necessary concessions to gain entry into China's economy. They continue to do so, too. Just this week, while the NBA was in the news, Apple removed an app allowing Hong Kong protesters to track police movement after the Chinese government protested.

That's nothing new. Apple removed a Skype app previously when the Chinese government protested. It suspended sales of the Apple watch because the Beijing government couldn't track it on citizens.

In this context, the NBA backpedaling from Morey's thoughts is no different than what every other company has done to do business in China. That's the point, really. The NBA always touted itself as better.

In recent years, its stars have taken up social causes in ways that hit at core principles but didn't really affect their bottom line. Oh, there were probably some upset fans when the Heat of the Big Three Era donned hoodies like murdered teen Trayvon Martin.

But China really hits the owners and players partnership. The teams want the billions to be had in TV views. And the players? Retired Heat star Dwyane Wade has a reported 10 shoe stores in China. His annual visits are a social-media boon of business.

Think he wants to give up that over a tweet? Think any of them do? Answer this: Would you?

Still, the NBA has become a place where stars who rightfully point out the hypocrisy of others have gone mum this time. Kerr and Popovich, like others, said they needed time to think about this Chinese situation.

"I just don't know about Chinese history and how that's influenced modern society and that interaction to speak on it," Golden State guard Stephen Curry said.

That sounds like Chinese to me. But fine. Let Curry study up. It'll take about 10 minutes to grasp the repressive society that's making him millions.

The Chinese government said its people were offended by Morey's words and canceled televising some preseason games (Oh, no, not preseason games). Still, more than 18,000 fans filled a Shanghai arena on Thursday to watch the Los Angeles Lakers play the Brooklyn Nets.

Either to punish or bless them, NBA players and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver weren't allowed to talk to the media, the Chinese government said. Silver surely wants anything but to have to talk more on this subject.

When a reporter asked Houston Rockets stars James Harden and Russell Westbrook about this controversy, a team official quickly said only basketball questions were being taken. The team later apologized. But Harden and Westbrook, to be sure, sat quiet.

The league that's been the voice of social progress in recent years found the price of its silence. It's the same price corporations across the board have.

Once, in a distant world, Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi downplayed the outcome of the 1967 Super Bowl by saying, "One billion Chinese won't even know who won."

Now they know seven simple words tweeted and deleted. We know something, too. The voice of social activism in sports has the same price to go silent as any company wanting money in China.