Agents' advice on NBA-China spat: 'No upside to speaking out'

Agents' advice on NBA-China spat: 'No upside to speaking out'

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Agents' advice on NBA-China spat: 'No upside to speaking out'

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The NBA’s showdown with China continues to dominate headlines and it remains to be seen whether this will be resolved anytime soon.

This situation, which started when Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey tweeted his support for the protests in Hong Kong, is still in flux and there’s been talk of potential salary-cap ramifications if it isn’t resolved. 

HoopsHype asked seven NBA agents how they’re advising their clients to answer questions about this topic and whether they believe this controversy will affect the salary cap. The agents spoke on the condition of anonymity. Several other agents refused to comment – even off the record – because this is such a sensitive topic.

Since this is such a touchy situation, some agents have advised their players to avoid talking about it altogether.

“We proactively addressed our clients and told them not to discuss this and just let the NBA handle it at this point,” one agent said. “There’s really no upside to speaking out about this if you’re a player, so we advised them that it’s best to stay out of it and let Adam Silver and the league handle this.”

“None of my guys have asked me about addressing the situation,” another agent added. “At this point, I think it’s like a hot iron and no players want to touch it. No one wants to give their opinion on it. [I believe players] shouldn’t talk about politics or religion.”

Other agents have warned their players that they should only speak out about this topic if they are well-informed.

“I tell my guys that they should read up on the issue and that they should understand some of the issues involving human rights,” one agent said. “It’s a delicate balance of trying to do business in China and understanding that you have to sacrifice certain freedoms that many people take for granted here – unfortunately.”

“My players haven’t asked me what they should say to the media, but I sent a note to all of them about this,” another agent added. “I basically said that this is a super sensitive subject and it’s best to be very careful with anything related to it.”

Players and coaches who consistently speak out about social issues have received some criticism for staying silent (so far) when it comes to this topic. Multiple agents defended these players.

“I think it’s absolutely unfair,” one agent said. “Players typically want to speak out against social injustices, but because this isn’t happening here in the U.S., the players don’t necessarily know what is going on in China or in Hong Kong and they don’t understand the human-rights violations involved. And if these players aren’t knowledgeable on this subject, they shouldn’t speak out.”

“After Klay Thompson rolls out of bed and fixes a 300-year debate in China via Twitter, should he then move on to fixing Palestine?” another agent wondered. “[Brooklyn Nets owner] Joe Tsai said it perfectly: It’s just one of those things that exist that is beyond comprehension and debate; it’s a third rail.”

A PR person who works for an agency agreed that many players don’t feel informed enough to share their thoughts.

“I think a lot of guys don’t have a clear understanding of what is happening in Hong Kong,” said the agency PR person. “But in situations like this, my advice is always: ‘Make sure you are educated and passionate about the cause before you begin speaking on politics.’”

(Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

As for whether this will impact the NBA’s salary cap going forward, some agents were more optimistic than others. On one side, some believe that this will pass and ultimately have zero impact on the league’s bottom line.

“I personally don’t think the salary cap will be affected,” said one top agent. “I personally feel that this was an overblown response from China, the Chinese Basketball Association and Chinese sponsors who were politically posturing. I think they overplayed their hand to some degree. They saw an opportunity and tried to capitalize on it, but it blew up in their face and, as a result, they’re now starting to back off. They don’t want to hurt how they’re perceived and they are worried about this affecting the 2022 Winter Olympics, which China is set to host. I think they’re starting to back off and this situation will blow over and not affect the NBA’s salary cap.”

“I think the relationship will be mended,” another agent added. “It may take a few months (or longer), but I believe the relationship will slowly be mended. I think it could affect the NBA’s salary cap, but not necessarily.”

Other agents believe that a cap hit is inevitable (especially since the NBA has a nine-figure TV deal in China).

“Yes, the cap will be affected. Will it be a 1 percent or 10 percent? Nobody knows,” another agent said. “With [the shoe company] Anta supposedly canceling their NBA licensing deal, we already know that revenue will be impacted. We just have no clue how much it’ll be impacted.”

Shortly after Morey’s tweet, China canceled a G League exhibition game between the Texas Legends and Rio Grande Valley Vipers (the Rockets’ G League affiliate). One agent who represents a Vipers player said that his client missed out on $4,000 that he would’ve received from the trip as well as great exposure from playing overseas. The agent added: “I guess what I’m trying to say is that this has had an effect on many levels.”

The United States and China continue to have talks about a possible trade deal, and one agent wonders if that will impact this situation.

“If this trade deal is agreed to and things normalize, which it looks like they may, I would think that the business relationship between China and the NBA will get back on track,” the agent said. “Could there be a short-term cap hit? Sure. However, if things fall apart with the trade deal, things will get ugly. Because the relationship between the NBA and China is so high-profile, I’d imagine that it would be negatively impacted in a big way. The relationship between the NBA and China and Nike is now highly politicized.”

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