“Essentially what I’ve said in that statement is the long-held values of the NBA are to support freedom of expression, and certainly freedom of expression by members of the NBA community. And in this case Daryl Morey, as the general manager of the Houston Rockets, enjoys that right as one of our employees.” — Adam Silver.

NATIONAL BASKETBALL ASSOCIATION MEDIA CONFERENCE

October 8, 2019

Adam Silver

ADAM SILVER: Thank you, all, for being here. First of all, I’d like to thank the Houston Rockets and the NBA champion Toronto Raptors for making the trip here to Tokyo. Their entire organizations have come. They’ve had the opportunity to spend about four days in the market already, and overall they’ll have been here for close to a week. I know we’re often asked about preseason versus regular-season games, but one thing I love about coming here in the preseason is that it gives our teams an opportunity to experience the community, in addition to playing two games, having a fan night and also getting a taste of the town. They have many of their family members with them, and so they really get to experience Japan.

I’d also like to thank Mickey Mikitani and Rakuten for being our hosts and for their tremendous coverage of the NBA. One quick story about Mickey Mikitani. I met him a few years ago, and he told me that he had grown up as a huge basketball fan here in Japan and wondered why there had been such a gap since we had had NBA games here in market. I said, well, all we needed was a great partner like Rakuten and we would be back.

And sure enough, Mickey stepped up. In addition to having a terrific broadcasting and e-commerce relationship with Rakuten, he has agreed to host these games. So personally I’m very thankful to Mickey. I’m sorry that there’s been such a long gap, essentially 16 years since we last played here, but we’re back.

We have the Olympics here next summer. Just a reminder it won’t just be 5-on-5 basketball in the Olympics, but for the first time in the Olympics and here in Tokyo, there will be a 3-on-3 basketball competition as well which will take place outdoors, be lively with music, more along the lines of beach volleyball. We very much are seeing an enormous amount of basketball played in this market.

I’d also like to congratulate the B.League on their success. This is their third season now. They’re doing a fantastic job growing the game here in market. I think all of the basketball community benefits from such a strong league here.

And lastly, of course this is a historic time for Japan in the NBA, and that’s because Rui Hachimura has now joined our league, the first-ever Japanese player as a first-round pick. He’ll be playing for the Washington Wizards. I believe that is a turning point for basketball in Japan. I’ve had the opportunity to spend some time with Rui back in the States. He is a fantastic young man, as I’ve said before. I don’t want to put too much pressure on him, just that there’s an entire country watching him with huge expectations, but I think he’s up to it.

And with that, I’m happy to answer any of your questions.

Q. It will be the first time in 16 years that an NBA game will be held in Japan. Can you talk about the meaning of this game being held in Japan?
ADAM SILVER: It has great meaning to be back here. As I said earlier, it’s unfortunate there was such a long gap, but I feel we’re back here, two feet on the ground. We have two fantastic teams. It’s fortunate that it worked out that you have the NBA champion here and a very exciting Houston Rockets team. Our experience has been that when a team is in the market, especially for several days, that on one hand, people get to experience, for those lucky enough to be in the arena, an NBA game up and close and in person, but also because of the tremendous media coverage around these games, we also find it helps to excite the market and create larger interest around the NBA.

I think it also coincides with a new product being issued by Rakuten, in essence an app called NBA Rakuten, on which all our games will be available this coming season.

We recognize we still have more work to do here in growing the sport. But as I said, with the success of the B.League, together with Rui and the NBA and the enormous amount of coverage from Rakuten, we’re going to see very substantial gains in interest this season.

Q. Are there ongoing talks or close-to-finalized talks about the NBA returning to Japan in the near future for upcoming games, preseason or regular season?
ADAM SILVER: There are ongoing talks about us returning here. I think the greatest likelihood is that we won’t play preseason games in Japan next season, only because we will be here with the Olympics. And when I say “we,” I don’t necessarily mean the USA team, who of course will be here, but for example in the World Cup of Basketball that just took place in China, we had 102 current or former players participating. So there will be a huge NBA presence here next summer, and I think then we’ll focus on bringing games back in the following preseason.

Q. What’s your expectation of Japanese basketball right now?
ADAM SILVER: Again, my expectation is that that league will continue to grow in conjunction with the NBA. The NBA working together with our federation, FIBA, works as a tradition very closely with local leagues. We see our mission not just to grow NBA basketball but the sport of basketball. There could be no greater complement than a well-run local league, and that’s what we have here in Japan. And so we have a strong relationship between our offices. We are very supportive of their junior programs, which we know are critically important to build the game and ensuring that young boys and girls have access to first-rate coaching and facilities.

I’d just say that we see a real path to growth here. I think I’ll add, having watched this over many years now, that the Olympics act as a true stimulus when they come to the market. Basketball is such a mainstay of the Summer Olympics, and that also serves to create a lot of excitement around the game.

Q. Just as you walked in, the NBA released a statement about the Daryl Morey-China row. Can you tell us any more about why it appears you’ve backed the Houston Rockets’ GM ahead of escalating the controversy with China?
ADAM SILVER: As some of you may know, I issued a statement shortly before this press conference because I thought there was a lot of misunderstanding out there about our position. I thought we had been somewhat straightforward, but I can understand, given translations and given interpretations in different parts of the world, why there might have been some confusion.

Essentially what I’ve said in that statement is the long-held values of the NBA are to support freedom of expression, and certainly freedom of expression by members of the NBA community. And in this case Daryl Morey, as the general manager of the Houston Rockets, enjoys that right as one of our employees.

What I also tried to suggest is I understand that there are consequences from that exercise of, in essence, his freedom of speech. We will have to live with those consequences. It’s my hope that for our Chinese fans and our partners in China, they will see those remarks in the context of now a three-decade, if not longer, relationship, and that we’ve done, in partnership with the Chinese Basketball Association, the Department of Education and many different businesses in China, I feel an enormous amount to build the sport, to work in communities, to focus on healthy lifestyles. That’s where we find ourselves, but that as a league, we are not willing to compromise those values.

Again, I’m sympathetic to our interests here and to our partners who are upset. I don’t think it’s inconsistent on one hand to be sympathetic to them and at the same time stand by our principles.

Q. Just to follow up on the China situation, so there’s some news that I think the state broadcaster will not be airing some exhibition games, and Tencent has said it will temporarily not broadcast Houston Rockets games. What is the league doing to deal with that situation?
ADAM SILVER: Part of the reason I issued the statement I did is because this afternoon, CCTV announced that because of my remarks supporting Daryl Morey’s freedom of expression, not the substance of his statement but his freedom of expression, they were no longer going to air the Lakers-Nets preseason games that are scheduled for later this week. Again, it’s not something we expected to happen. I think it’s unfortunate. But if that’s the consequences of us adhering to our values, we still feel it’s critically important we adhere to those values.

My plan all along has been to travel to Shanghai tomorrow, and I plan to attend the Lakers-Nets game Thursday night. It’s my hope that when I’m in Shanghai, I can meet with the appropriate officials and discuss where we stand, and again, put those remarks from Daryl Morey and my remarks in an appropriate context of a many-decades-long relationship and see if we can find mutual respect for each other’s political systems and beliefs.

But I’m a realist as well, and I recognize that this issue may not die down so quickly.

Q. As you know, your regional office in Hong Kong has been there almost 30 years and you have 60 employees. The current corporate culture of companies like Cathay Pacific where Beijing has insisted that any employees who have posted anything favorable toward the protestors has to be fired or replaced. I’m just wondering, in line with everything you’ve said, will you extend that to protect your employees’ freedom of speech in Hong Kong, which is really ground zero for this whole debate?
ADAM SILVER: We will protect our employees’ freedom of speech.

Q. Have you communicated with Yao Ming at all or somebody at the Chinese Basketball Association? And what kind of a distraction is this for you guys with your season just about to kick off?
ADAM SILVER: Our office has communicated directly with Yao Ming. As I said, he and I have been close friends since he joined this league. He’s extremely upset. I think part of what goes with freedom of speech, as I’ve said before, is not only on one hand Daryl Morey expressing his point of view, but Joe Tsai in return expressing his view, and Yao Ming as well. There’s no question that Daryl’s tweet has hit what I would describe as a third-rail issue in China. I think Yao is extremely unsettled. I’m not sure he quite accepts sort of how we are operating our business right now, and again, I accept that we have a difference of opinion.

I also think that as part of our core values, tolerance is one of those as well. I think tolerance for differing societies’ approaches, tolerance for differing points of view and the ability to listen. Certainly I don’t come here, either as the commissioner of the NBA or as an American, to tell others how they should run their governments.

I think, though, at the end of the day, I am an American, and there are these values that are deeply rooted in the DNA of the NBA, and that includes freedom of expression for our employees. I’m hoping that together Yao Ming and I can find an accommodation. But he is extremely hot at the moment, and I understand it.

Q. Do you have any additional plan to cancel or change any events related to China or in China?
ADAM SILVER: We have no plans to cancel any other events, but one of our NBA Cares events that was scheduled in Shanghai has been canceled. Incidentally, we are still going to go forward with the community outreach. In this community center we made a commitment for new computers and new facilities, so we of course will still provide them. What has been canceled is more of a ceremonial event. And again, I accept that. But so far, no other events have been canceled. It is our hope that no other events will be canceled, and as I said, that we can work with our longtime partners and find an accommodation, recognizing we have true differences.

Q. Right now there are several Chinese teams that are playing against NBA teams in the preseason, but do you see in the future a B.League team competing against an NBA team in the preseason?
ADAM SILVER: We’d love to see a B.League team competing in the preseason. That has become a regular feature of NBA preseason competition in the United States, and that is teams from other countries and other leagues traveling to play our teams. That is something we will look into doing going forward.

Q. Two very short questions. Firstly, can you confirm that you have no intention to apologize for the issue that you’re now facing with China? And secondly, I appreciate that freedom of speech and expression is very important to you, but would you like people connected with the NBA to be a little bit more careful before they tweet or before they say anything?
ADAM SILVER: To answer your second question, of course I would like people who are associated with the NBA to be sensitive about other people’s cultures. I think saying that by no means suggests that we’re going to regulate their speech. But I think that is appropriate, as a business that operates globally, I think we always have an eye on being sensitive to local mores, local customs. But again, that’s not prescriptive. That’s just a general sense. And I try to be sensitive to other cultures as I travel.

Your first question?

Q. Can you confirm you have no intention of apologizing?
ADAM SILVER: I want to be clear, and I think there’s been some confusion around this. We are not apologizing for Daryl exercising his freedom of expression. I regret, again, having communicated directly with many friends in China, that so many people are upset, including millions and millions of our fans. At the end of the day, we come with basketball as an opportunity to sell dreams, sell hopes, to increasingly focus on physical fitness, mental health. To the extent that we are causing disruption in people’s lives and that we are causing disharmony, that’s something I regret.

As I said earlier, I don’t think it’s inconsistent to both be apologetic that that was the outcome of that speech but at the same time support Daryl’s right to his freedom of expression and Joe Tsai’s right to respond.

I would just say, I believe it’s more of a human reaction, as someone who’s been coming to China regularly since 2004. I think I’ve attended virtually every preseason game that we’ve ever conducted in any city in China. As I said, we have great business partners, many friends, including Yao Ming. And to the extent that we are upsetting people, I regret that.

But as I said, I think one of the things that comes with freedom of expression often is very difficult conversations. In any society, that comes with that sort of engagement. I think nobody ever suggested that when somebody exercises those rights that it means that people are going to say, aha, now I agree, or that everything will be friendly. And if anything, very much an unintended consequence, but I think what we’re seeing as a result of Daryl’s tweet and Joe Tsai’s response, I can tell you, at least speaking for the United States, that there’s I think far more understanding of the complexity of the issues in Hong Kong than there was heretofore. Sports often serves that purpose, that takes people who might not otherwise pay attention to issues in society, and sports shines a light on them. So that’s where we are.

Q. I imagine you talked to Daryl Morey about the tweet. Can you share part of the discussion, what was talked about, what you said to him and what he said to you?
ADAM SILVER: You know, in the NBA we practice something called commissioner privilege (laughter). And so I would only say, yes, Daryl and I have talked. But I don’t think it’s appropriate to share the back and forth.

Q. It seems like the app with Rakuten and the platform for showing the NBA games through that app is the main focus right now of your partnership with them or making new inroads into Japan. But do you have any more specific plans beyond that?
ADAM SILVER: Our plans beyond that involve technology. Having spent a fair amount of time with Mickey Mikitani over the years and used that Rakuten platform, they have some of the best technology for producing games that we see anywhere in the world, including the United States. What we’re hoping to do with Mickey — he, I think, uniquely understands the opportunity that comes with a brand like the NBA. Of course it’s about top-notch basketball, but it’s also about entertainment, it’s about music, it’s about fashion. So what we’re trying to do with Rakuten is build the NBA brand into a lifestyle brand and to capture casual sports fans who may not have grown up necessarily playing basketball or caring about basketball and using sort of that broader platform to draw people in to what I’d call an NBA lifestyle. That’s something we’re very focused on with Rakuten.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports