With the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing just 18 days away and U.S. diplomats boycotting the games over what a spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in Beijing recently called China’s “ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, and other human rights abuses,” one of the most outspoken owners of one of the NBA’s flagship franchises has weighed in.
Billionaire Chamath Palihapitiya, a minority owner of the Golden State Warriors alongside majority owners Peter Guber and Joe Lacob, expressed what he called “a very hard, ugly truth” about China’s treatment of its Uyghur minority-Muslim population in the Xinjiang autonomous region.
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“Nobody cares about what’s happening to the Uyghurs. You bring it up because you really care, and I think that’s nice that you care, the rest of us don’t care,” Palihapitiya said. “I’m telling you a very hard, ugly truth, okay? Of all the things that I care about, yes, it is below my line.”
Warriors’ PR issued a statement calling Palihapitiya “a limited investor who has no day-to-day operating functions with the Warriors.” It went on to say that he “does not speak on behalf of our franchise and his views certainly don’t reflect those of our organization.”
The context of the remark is a conversation on the All-In Podcast between Palihapitiya and his co-hosts, tech entrepreneur Jason Calacanis and early Google employee David Friedberg, about President Biden’s popularity and policies.
After Calacanis praised Biden’s China policy Palihapitiya said, “I think we have a responsibility to take care of our own backyard first.”
Calacanis responded that the U.S. is far from perfect, but argued a comparison with the state of human rights in China doesn’t hold water.
“The what-aboutism that you’re proposing is so disproportional to the equivalent of the Holocaust going on — we’re talking about a million Uyghers in concentration camps right now — to talk about what we have here and we need to fix [and] to compare it to there or to Saudi Arabia whipping bloggers and throwing gay people off roofs for being gay…these two things are not morally comparable,” he said.
You can watch the exchange at about the 14:30 mark below.
The NBA has had a difficult relationship with China. In 2019, a single tweet from then-Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey supporting pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong got the entire league nixed from national broadcaster CCTV. It was over a year before China would again allow league games on state TV. CNBC estimated last year that the NBA’s China operation is worth at least $5 billion, including a $1.5 billion media-rights agreement with Chinese tech company Tencent.
Boston Celtics center Enis Kanter’s advocacy for Tibet and against the Chinese government and its “brutal dictator” Xi Jinping resulted in Celtics games being wiped off Tencent in China last year. One week later Kanter — who is Muslim — upped the ante, calling out the country and Nike over treatment of ethnic minority Uyghur workers in factories there. Those conditions were detailed in a Washington Post exposé.
Nike shoes are, of course, worn by most NBA players in every game. Nike also supplies the league’s uniforms and provides its top stars with massively lucrative shoe contracts. Leading players like LeBron James, who has a “lifetime contract” with Nike reportedly worth $1 billion — has struggled to respond meaningfully, and faced blowback for not doing so.
Palihapitiya, now a venture capitalist who was once VP of “user growth” at Facebook, a Democratic party donor, a winner on TV’s World Series of Poker and the World Poker Tour and onetime rumored California gubernatorial candidate, went on:
“I’m not even sure that China is a dictatorship the way that you want to call it that,” Palihapitiya said after Calacanis called the communist nation a brutal dictatorship.
“This issue may be small data points being extrapolated in a way to create a narrative that may not be true,” he continued.
Kanter himself responded this morning by posting a clip of Palihapitiya’s words and writing, “When genocides happen, it is people like this that let it happen.”
When @NBA says we stand for justice, don’t forget there are those who sell their soul for money & business like @chamath the owner of @warriors,
who says “Nobody cares about what’s happening to the Uyghurs”
When genocides happen, it is people
like this that let it happen
U.S. politicians on the right have also begun blasting Palihapitiya.
NBA takes a bold stance:
– slavery doesn’t matter.
– concentration camps don’t matter
– torture & murder doesn’t matter
“We don’t care.”
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) January 17, 2022
Sickening. More proof the NBA will cozy up to Communist China at all costs, rather than take a stand against Xi’s human rights abuses and targeting of the Muslim Uyghurs. https://t.co/uTYplKBdMF
— Sen. Marsha Blackburn (@MarshaBlackburn) January 17, 2022
We’ve always known that the @NBA & many of its owners are happy to put profits over people. Now @chamath is saying it plain as day: he doesn’t care that Communist China is committing genocide against the Uyghurs. He doesn’t care that millions are sent to forced labor camps. (1/2) https://t.co/GsvSTrD2Uo
— Rick Scott (@SenRickScott) January 17, 2022
— Mike Pompeo (@mikepompeo) January 17, 2022
NBA Team Owner: ’Nobody Cares’ about Uyghur Genocide https://t.co/eGc6O12wWI
— Jason Miyares (@JasonMiyaresVA) January 17, 2022
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