The NBA is holding “ongoing business discussions” with China Central Television, the Chinese Communist Party’s chief propaganda network known for airing forced confessions of domestic dissidents.
The league told Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.) in a March 30 letter that it is exploring a renewed partnership with the regime’s television organ. While the NBA has yet to finalize a deal for the 2021 season, deputy commissioner Mark Tatum wrote, the two sides are in “ongoing business discussions.” Tatum also revealed that NBA China CEO Michael Ma—whose father served as a top executive for CCTV Sports—is taking an “active role” in the negotiations.
The state-run network has attracted widespread criticism for its crucial role in advancing CCP propaganda. CCTV regularly airs forced confessions from journalists, human rights activists, and other dissidents. It has also likened pro-democracy Hong Kong protesters to ISIS militants. In 2018, the network dismissed China’s Xinjiang-based internment camps—where more than one million Uyghur Muslims are subject to forced labor—as “vocational centers” aimed at boosting employment.
Blackburn condemned the NBA for entering negotiations with the state-run network “at the same time when American companies like H&M and Nike are turning away from China and refusing to employ Xinjiang slave labor.”
“The NBA is attempting to cut a deal to air games on the same station that regularly broadcasts Communist propaganda and forced prisoner confessions,” she told the Washington Free Beacon.
Such a deal would prove lucrative for the league, which, according to Tatum, lost hundreds of millions of dollars during the 2019-2020 season due to a CCTV ban. The network’s moratorium on NBA games came after then-Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey spoke out against Chinese human rights abuses in October 2019. CCTV refused to air NBA contests for a year following Morey’s comments and has yet to broadcast a 2021 regular season game.
The NBA’s relationship with China goes far beyond CCTV. The league for years ran a basketball training camp in Xinjiang, where Chinese partners reportedly subjected coaches and young players to routine physical abuse. One former employee compared the Xinjiang academy to “World War II Germany,” and American coaches were surveilled and detained by CCP officials without cause.
NBA leaders were seeking coaches to move to Xinjiang “well into the summer” of 2019, years after human rights groups revealed the existence of internment camps in the region.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver, who maxed out donations to President Joe Biden in 2020, has praised the league’s “long history of supporting important issues around social justice” while ignoring Chinese atrocities.
“Our business has continued there,” Silver said of the communist nation in March. “We have hundreds of millions of fans in China and we see it as our business to serve those fans.”
The NBA did not return a request for comment.