CHICAGO — Although he did not have a spreadsheet in front of him, NBA commissioner Adam Silver did not need to rely on an accountant to sense the league will experience a financial loss.
Amid China’s backlash toward the NBA after Rockets general manager Daryl Morey published a tweet supporting Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests, Silver offered precise estimations on how that will affect the NBA’s bottom line.
“I think that the magnitude of the loss will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars,” Silver said on Saturday. “Certainly, probably less than $400 million, maybe even less than that. It’s substantial. I don’t want to run from that.”
The tension emerged when Morey tweeted, “Fight for Freedom, Stand with Hong Kong” just as the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets embarked on a preseason trip in October to Shenzhen and Beijing.
CCTV, a Chinese state-run television station, declined to broadcast the Lakers-Nets games. Telecom company Tencent canceled Rockets coverage and all NBA preseason games. The Chinese government pressured the NBA to cancel an NBA Cares event with the Nets. Various Chinese companies have announced they will end partnerships with various NBA stars. Although the NBA still played a pair of preseason games, the league did not have any press conferences for Silver or either team. CCTV has yet to air an NBA game since the regular season started.
“My sense is that there will be a return to normalcy fairly soon, but I can’t say exactly when it comes to CCTV,” Silver said. “We are not pressing them. It’s a decision that’s outside of certainly our control, and I will say I’m often not even sure exactly where that decision lies. I think that our view as the league is we should continue doing the things that we’ve done in the past.”
NBA ALL-STAR GAME:MVP award to be renamed the Kobe Bryant MVP Award
NBA ALL-STAR WEEKEND:‘A tribute to’ legacies of Kobe Bryant and David Stern
Things appeared just as uncertain if the NBA will have any preseason games in China next season.
Silver said the NBA has had “discussions” internally about China with two possibilities. The U.S. men’s Olympic men’s basketball team might play exhibition games in China before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics begin on July 24. The NBA might also host a pair of preseason games in China, which the league has done since 2004. But Silver did not offer any indication when he would have definitive answers.
The uncertainty on those possible games go beyond the Chinese government’s backlash over Morey’s tweet and the NBA publicly supporting his freedom of speech. It also partly stems from the coronavirus outbreak. Though the NBA has worked with world health organizations on relief efforts, the league has delayed its talks with China about other business.
“It’s almost hard for us to be having conversations about the broadcasting of games when there’s a major national, if not global, health crisis happening,” Silver said. “I just don’t know sort of next steps in terms of the process. We’ve had lines of communication open for a long time with counterparts in China. I think there’s a mutual interest in returning to normalcy in terms of the distribution of our games.”
As for what that means for the NBA’s finances, Silver said the league will have more clarity on if CCTV will continue to boycott the remainder of the regular season as well as the playoffs. Nonetheless, USA TODAY Sports recently reported that the salary cap projection for the 2020-21 season is about one million less than April’s projection of $116 million.
“I don’t have any sense that there’s any permanent damage to our business there,” Silver said. “We accept the consequences of our system and our values. It’s not a position any business wants to be in, but those are the results. But far lower than whatever those multi-billion dollar numbers that you had heard.”