Broadcasting of the Boston Celtics of the National Basketball Association (NBA) has been cut in China, after comments made by one of the team’s players about Tibetan sovereignty.
Describing Chinese President and Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party Xi Jinping as a ‘brutal dictator’,’ Celtics’ centre player Enes Kanter detailed that he had a message for the national leader and his ‘henchmen’.
“Under the Chinese government’s brutal rule, Tibetan people’s basic rights and freedoms are non-existent,” he remarked.
A separate Tweet by the player, marked with the hashtag #FreeTibet, read: “More than 150 Tibetan people have burned themselves alive!! — hoping that such an act would raise more awareness about Tibet. I stand with my Tibetan brothers and sisters, and I support their calls for Freedom.”
Tibet has been an integral part of the People’s Republic of China since its annexation in 1959, after which the status of the region has become a significant cause of protest and controversy.
As a result of Kanter’s remarks, the Celtics’ clash against the New York Knicks was cut by broadcaster Tencent – which earlier this year enhanced its partnership with the NBA via its Tencent Music Entertainment (TME) division – whilst the central government has also issued a response.
When asked about Kanter, Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, remarked: “The player you mentioned was clout-chasing, trying to get attention with Tibet-related issues.”
He added: “Tibet is part of China. We will never accept those attacks to discredit Tibet’s development and progress.”
Loss of Chinese broadcasting revenue could deal a strong blow to the Celtics finances, as the NBA’s operations in the country are worth an estimated $5 billion, whilst audience figures for individual games have reached 200 million.
The franchise has also received substantial criticism across Chinese social media, with Weibo – a popular social media platform often likened to Twitter – suspending the player’s account.
A Celtics fan page on the platform stated: “Any information on the team will cease to appear on this Weibo. Any behaviour that undermines the harmony of the nation and the dignity of the motherland, we resolutely resist.”
The controversy builds on damage done to the NBA’s relationship with Chinese authorities in 2019, when then-Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey tweeted his support of anti-Beijing protesters in Hong Kong.
As a result Tenecet pulled all coverage of the NBA for a year, but did not broadcast any games featuring the Philadelphia 76ers after Morey was appointed General Manager of the team.
State run broadcaster CCTV also withdrew from covering the NBA China Games between the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets. As a result of the controversies, the league has estimated that it lost up to $400 million during the 2019/20 season.