The NBA, China, and Free Speech

On October 4, 2019 the General Manager of the Houston Rockets, Daryl Morey, tweeted an image from his personal Twitter account in support of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong – sparking controversy in the NBA, and beyond. Since the Spring of 2019, tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents have been in the streets protesting for democratic rights and limits on China’s legal influence over them. This week, Current Events provides you with the background on the history of the tension between China and Hong Kong here, along with resources for students to discuss how the NBA got enmeshed in that conflict. An important question to reflect on: how much free speech do we as individuals have in our work places, if our beliefs might impact the revenue of our organization? Should the organization be free to determine how “free” our political speech can be?


Essential Questions:

  • Why does it matter if private organizations (like the NBA) are able to limit the political free speech rights of their employees?
  • How was the free political speech of Daryl Morey treated differently than the speech of LeBron James, and why?
  • Why does it matter how an organization like the NBA interacts with countries that are not democracies?
  • How might doing business with dictatorships conflict with the values of the Constitution, yet still be important efforts?
  • How can employees of private corporations ensure their voices are heard when they disagree with their employer’s business practices?
  • Why should we as participating members of a democracy care about what is happening in Hong Kong?




CNN Reporter Blocked when she tried to ask NBA players about Hong Kong:



Background on Hong Kong Protests:

Why Hong Kong is Still Protesting – The Daily Podcast

The NBA’s relationship with China:



Recent News Articles:

Background on Hong Kong Protests:

A polarized city, mirrored in its diaspora – The Atlantic, Oct. 20, 2019

Why are there protests in Hong Kong? – The BBC

Hong Kong Protesters Want U.S. Law Pushing More Scrutiny of Their Conflict With Beijing. Will It Backfire? – Fortune Magazine, Oct. 11, 2019

Democracy in Hong Kong – The Council on Foreign Relations


The NBA’s relationship with China:

The NBA Won’t Be Able to Reset Its Relationship With China Anytime Soon – The Ringer, Oct. 21, 2019

NBA Arenas Prepare for Hong Kong Protests – Wall Street Journal, Oct. 21, 2019

How China Could Inflict ‘Retribution’ Against Adam Silver, NBA – Sports Illustrated, Oct. 20, 2019

How the NBA Hong Kong row reveals China’s control of corporate America – The Guardian, Oct. 20, 2019

Chinese State Television demands ‘Retribution’ against NBA’s Adam Silver – New York Times, Oct. 20, 2019

For NBA and other sports leagues, a difficult tightrope to business in China – ESPN, Oct. 19, 2019

China Conflict Mutes N.B.A.’s New-Season Buzz – New York Times, Oct. 12, 2019

American brands are trying to play both sides of the Hong Kong-China conflict – Vox News, Oct. 11, 2019


The Events with the NBA:

Hundreds Flood Brooklyn Nets Game In ‘Stand With Hong Kong’ T-Shirts – HuffPost, Oct. 19, 2019

Brooklyn Nets owner, Alibaba co-founder Tsai decries Houston Rockets GM’s Hong Kong tweet — Reuters – Oct. 6, 2019

LeBron James weighs in on China-Hong Kong conflict, says Daryl Morey was ‘misinformed’ about ramifications – CBS News, Oct. 15, 2019

LeBron James faces backlash unseen since ‘The Decision’ – New York times, Oct. 15, 2019

LeBron James angers Hong Kong protesters with ‘free speech’ comments – PBS NewsHour, Oct. 15, 2019



The NBA Should Leave China — Tom Scocca, Slate, Oct. 7, 2019

Opinion: The NBA was staring down a China problem with or without Daryl Morey’s tweet – Brian A. Boyle, Los Angeles Times, Oct. 7, 2019


Geography/Maps and Geography News:

How Hong Kong’s complex history explains its current crisis with China – National Geographic



A Timeline of the Complicated Controversy Between the NBA and China –


Lexile-Level Adjustable Article from Newsela:

Why are People in Hong Kong Protesting? – original article from Bloomberg

Legal/Constitutional Connections:

Constitutional Question: How far should employee First Amendment free speech rights be curbed when doing business in non-democracies?

Analysis: The Long Arm Of China And Free Speech – NPR News

What employee speech is protected in the workplace? – Human Resources Daily

Your Free Speech Rights (Mostly) Don’t Apply At Work – Forbes Magazine

What does Free Speech Mean? – US Federal Courts

Freedom Of Speech In The Workplace: The First Amendment Revisited – Findlaw legal analysis

The Supreme Court History of Freedom of Expression – ACLU

The First Amendment doesn’t guarantee you the rights you think it does – CNN


Lesson Plans on this topic:

The Umbrella Movement: Protests in Hong Kong – The Choices Program

Study Guide: Hong Kong’s Pro-Democracy protests – PBS Newshour

The Story of China – PBS Learning Media


Lesson Plans regarding Media & News Literacy (general):

Media Literacy Resources – Newseum

News & Media Literacy Lessons – Common Sense

Media Misinformation, Viral Deception, and “Fake News” – University of Wyoming

Evaluating Sources in a ‘Post-Truth’ World: Ideas for Teaching and Learning About Fake News – New York Times Lessons