An Open Letter to Commissioner Adam Silver


Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Active NBA Commissioner Adam Silver

A copy of this letter, which addresses the NBA’s silence on the current human rights abuses in the People’s Republic of China, was mailed to the NBA Commissioner’s Office at 645 Fifth Avenue in New York, NY.

Dear Mr. Silver,

I have followed the NBA closely since 2011, and as a Philadelphia resident I have attended multiple Philadelphia 76ers games every year since 2010. In recent years I have watched about 65 regular season Sixers games and about 30 other national NBA broadcast games per year since 2015. I followed a number of NBA-related social media accounts, including some official NBA accounts, and I have consistently purchased jerseys and other merchandise for myself and as gifts for others.

However, since October 6th, I have not watched a single NBA game. I have not liked or shared any NBA social media content. I have not made any purchases from the NBA store or other NBA merchandise outlets. The NBA’s disappointing handling of the Daryl Morey situation and stance on the Hong Kong Crisis have made the NBA unwatchable for me. 

I follow Daryl Morey on Twitter, and have for over a year. When Mr. Morey tweeted “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong” on October 4th, I thought very little of it. I agreed with him and was glad to see he was willing to take a stand against an authoritative and oppressive government. What did catch my attention, though, was a tweet he published just two days later: 

I did not intend my tweet to cause any offense to Rockets fans and friends of mine in China. I was merely voicing one thought, based on one interpretation, of one complicated event. I have had a lot of opportunity since that tweet to hear and consider other perspectives.”

It is clear Mr. Morey did not send this tweet on his own volition. The NBA and the Houston Rockets, which both have immense financial interest in the People’s Republic of China, saw the potential danger of Mr. Morey’s tweet and instructed him to delete his original message and publish an apology. I understand that the NBA and the Rockets would like to avoid controversy with the People’s Republic of China and its citizens when they can; there is nothing wrong with hoping for easy interactions with financial partners. However, limiting an individual’s speech supporting a global movement for liberty in order to protect a financial asset is unforgivable. As an employee of the NBA, you are complicit in the suppression of free speech.

This suppression was not limited to Mr. Morey. In a press conference during the Rockets’ preseason tour of China, a British reporter asked Rockets all-stars James Harden and Russell Westbrook for their thoughts regarding Mr. Morey’s situation. An NBA official then informed the reporter that Mr. Harden and Mr. Westbrook would not answer the question. In this incident, the NBA doubled down on their commitment to silencing its employees’ speech regarding the Hong Kong Crisis.

The NBA’s actions in October are especially ironic when one considers that the NBA has long been known as the “woke” league. The NBA’s encouragement of its players’ protest against racist police brutality and President Trump was lauded by fans and pundits. However, it is now clear that the NBA only enabled this activism because it was profitable for the league; most NBA viewers supported the players’ actions. Mr. Morey’s tweet was different from these protests: most of the hundreds of millions of NBA fans in the People’s Republic of China disagreed strongly with his beliefs. The discrepancy in the NBA’s handling of these two separate protests elucidates their true motivation to support protest: it was never about free speech, it was only about profit.

My frustration with the NBA goes beyond Mr. Morey’s situation, though: the NBA has cooperated with the morally repugnant government of the People’s Republic of China for far too long. It has almost become hard to keep track of all of the PRC’s human rights violations. The infringement on liberty in Hong Kong is joined by the Uigher Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing in Western China and the terrifying Social Credit System that is currently being implemented across China. Your responsibility to condemn and reject these acts by the People’s Republic of China go beyond your obligation as Americans or public figures — their acts violate the fundamental principles of humanity and must be resisted in every way, shape, and form. An attack on the basic rights of one human is an attack on the basic rights of us all. The actions of the People’s Republic of China set a dangerous precedent for the future, and your enablement only makes further violations more likely.

You promised after this fiasco that you would not limit the speech of NBA employees and would not acquiesce to the People’s Republic of China. You have already done both of these things, and you have given no indication you will not again. Your purported position is certainly nice, but it is not enough: the actions of the People’s Republic of China deserve the utmost condemnation. You have the platform to criticize these actions and inflict real financial damage on the People’s Republic of China and have failed to do so in order to protect your own financial interest. 

Mr. Silver, I view your commissionership as a great success. You have made the NBA a more accessible and entertaining league and have, for the most part, made me proud to support the NBA. I understand that I am not always going to agree with your actions. However, this goes beyond basic disagreement: your actions violate the foundational ideas of right and wrong, of good and evil, of freedom and oppression. Three months ago I would have told you that as an adult I would purchase tickets for multiple games per year for me, my family, and my friends; purchase merchandise for my children; purchase streaming packages and watch many games per year; recommend the NBA to friends and family. After the league’s actions in October, I no longer plan to do any of these things unless there is a swift change of tone from the NBA.

I understand that one person’s complaints and boycott will not change the NBA’s approach regarding the People’s Republic of China. Nonetheless, I would like you to know that you have lost a potential lifetime customer. I know that many of my friends feel similarly. I hope it is becoming increasingly clear that citizens of the world will not tolerate the reprehensible passivity of the NBA.



Peter Ryan