LeBron Won’t Solve the NBA’s China Problem

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The NBA and China are at the point in a relationship when the texts feel more distant and plans start to slip. Is it time for a breakup? Maybe just some straight talk.

China’s Communist government has gone full hissy fit after Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted support of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong and NBA commissioner Adam Silver gave a tepid backing of Morey. 

Thursday’s Brooklyn Nets-Los Angeles Lakers preseason game in Shanghai went off as scheduled, but the participants were off-limits to the media as China canceled charity and fan events, removed NBA advertising and banned broadcasts. Chinese shoe company Anta, which endorses Klay Thompson and Rajon Rondo, ended its NBA relationship. It raises the question of why in Mao’s name Silver doesn’t just pack up and leave.

Contrary to what some may think, LeBron James’ thoughts on international diplomacy don’t matter here. The typically outspoken Steve Kerr and Gregg Popovich have already pleaded the Fifth. Anyone who’s watched The Shop knows we should expect James to do the same, especially with his Nike and NBA endorsement dollars on the line. That’s OK. 

But Silver has built the NBA into a perceived “woke” vanguard of global citizenry. With a heavy Chinese presence made heavier by newly minted Nets majority owner Joe Tsai, can that continue? Not unless we’re honest. 

Like many of the league’s players who have mastered the “hold me back” on-court altercation, the NBA currently looks fake-tough here. It’s time for it to either own up to its rational capitalist motivations or find noncommunist regions of the world in which to invest.

What to watch and Pick ’em

No. 6 Oklahoma at No. 11 Texas (Saturday at noon ET on Fox)

In a game that could very well decide the College Football Playoff fate of the Big 12, can Sam Ehlinger and Texas finally regain bragging rights in the Red River Rivalry? 

  • Texas (+10.5)
  • Oklahoma (-10.5)

Houston Texans at Kansas City Chiefs (Sunday at 1 pm ET on CBS)

Pat Mahomes and Deshaun Watson have become appointment television every time they take the field. So, mano a mano? Yeah, we’re watching. 

  • Houston (+4.5)
  • Kansas City (-4.5)

Ones to Watch

Auburn v Florida

Jonathan Greenard, Gators enforcer.

Source James Gilbert/Getty

Jonathan Greenard, Florida outside linebacker. Come Saturday, when No. 7 Florida visits No. 5 LSU in an SEC clash with playoff ramifications, much will be made of LSU’s Heisman candidate quarterback, Joe Burrow, and the revamped offense in Baton Rouge. Can the Gators offense keep up? Spoiler alert: They can’t. Thus, a Florida victory comes down to a standout defensive unit powered by Greenard, a graduate transfer from Louisville who ranks second in the SEC in tackles for loss (6½) and sacks (4). He’ll face his toughest test yet against LSU’s revamped spread offense. Greenard will have to set the edge and defend LSU’s endless stream of versatile receivers while, most importantly, pressuring Burrow into turnover situations. It ain’t easy, but somebody’s gotta do it. 

AIG Women's British Open - Day Three

Danielle Kang golfs with swagger.

Source Richard Heathcote/Getty

Danielle Kang, LPGA golfer. The NBA’s not the only pro league currently competing in China. At the Buick LPGA Shanghai Open next week, all eyes will turn toward last year’s champion, Kang. A 26-year-old San Francisco native currently ranked No. 16 in the world, Kang has notched 30 top 10s (eight this season) since turning pro out of Pepperdine University in 2012. After finishing minus-13 for the two-stroke victory in Shanghai last October, Kang looks poised to defend her title — and she’s welcoming the target on her back. At the Solheim Cup in Scotland last month, Kang suggested, unprompted, that Scottish fans were going to boo her. The ensuing criticism only emboldened Kang, who has taken to putting one hand to her ear after sinking a putt — a bold move that strays far from the typical golf etiquette. 

Trending up

A surprise NLCS. With the Nationals and Cardinals advancing, the best-of-seven National League Championship Series looks due to deliver 99 mph heat on the black. And no one saw this coming. St. Louis dropped a first-inning 10-spot like a guillotine on Atlanta to advance Wednesday. With former Cy Young winner Adam Wainwright, Miles Mikolas and breakout star Jack Flaherty, the Cardinals have long been known to have the pitching juice to challenge anyone, but their ability to outslug the Braves bodes well as they turn to a Nationals team that most prognosticators wrote off weeks ago. Instead, the Nats shocked a Dodgers club that had attended the past two World Series, shedding their first-round playoff curse and leaving the nation’s capital shouting, “Bryce who?” Washington ranks sixth in runs scored and 13th in homers this season — better than St. Louis (19th and 24th, respectively) — but the National League pennant will be decided by pitching, small ball and timely hitting. As it should be. You’ll undoubtedly hear about how neither of these teams can keep up with the American League’s power-slugging behemoths. Don’t believe it.

Trending Down

The death of the running back. Yes, it’s no longer advised to pay running backs in gold. Regardless of talent, the quarterback is the most valuable player on every team. Except for one: the Carolina Panthers. The last non-quarterback to win the MVP award was Adrian Peterson in 2012, and only four non-QBs (running backs Peterson, LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006, Shaun Alexander in 2005 and Marshall Faulk in 2000) have won the award this century. Swiss Army knife tailback Christian McCaffrey looks like the next. The Giants’ Saquon Barkley was the most common No. 1 fantasy football pick entering the year, but McCaffrey has emerged as the most dynamic offensive athlete in the league. As likely to flip over a defender as bulldoze him, he exploded for 176 yards and two touchdowns while adding six catches for 61 yards and another score against the Jaguars last weekend. This week, against a porous Tampa Bay defense, he looks poised for another 200-plus-yard game, and he’s on pace to smash Darren Sproles’ record of 2,696 all-purpose yards. His could be a historic running back season.

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