Adam Silver says Daryl Morey's China tweet will cost NBA hundreds of millions of dollars

CHICAGO — NBA commissioner Adam Silver said the league’s strained relationship with China will ultimately cost it hundreds of millions of dollars – though not billions, as some initially speculated the controversy would.

Silver gave his educated estimate at his annual All-Star Weekend news conference on Saturday in Chicago. Half of the questions he took addressed the fallout from Rockets GM Daryl Morey’s infamous tweet.

“In terms of the precise numbers, it's still a little bit uncertain,” Silver said of the financial impact. But later he got more specific: “I think that the magnitude of the loss will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Certainly, probably less than $400 million.” However, he clarified: “It's substantial. I don't want to run from that.”

NBA commissioner Adam Silver gestures as he addresses a press conference ahead of the NBA basketball match between Milwaukee Bucks and Charlotte Hornets at The AccorHotels Arena in Paris on January 24, 2020. (Photo by FRANCK FIFE / AFP) (Photo by FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images)
The China controversy was a popular subject at Adam Silver's annual All-Star Weekend news conference. (Franck Fife/AFP/Getty Images)

As a result, the NBA lowered its salary-cap projections for the 2020-21 season. Silver cautioned that the true impact on the league’s revenue won’t be known until after the postseason. But that impact will be, and already has been, significant.

“We were taken off the air in China for a period of time, and it caused our many business partners in China to feel it was, therefore, inappropriate to have ongoing relationships with us,” Silver said. “But I don't have any sense that there's any permanent damage to our business there, and as I've said before, 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.”

The state of the NBA’s relationship with China

So where, exactly, does the league’s relationship with China now stand?

Silver made an important distinction between the people of China and the country’s government. The NBA’s relationship with the people, he said, remains “strong.” He cited “interest in the NBA digitally and the games that are being streamed there.” “The ratings,” he said it was recently reported, “are about where they were last season.”

“Having said that, our games have not returned to CCTV, the government broadcaster,” Silver explained, shifting to the another aspect of the league’s relationship with the country. “My sense is they will at some point in the future. We are not pressing them. It's a decision that's outside of our control, and I will say I'm often not even sure exactly where that decision lies.”

So, Silver concluded: “From the data we look at, there continues to be enormous interest for the NBA in China. And my sense is that there will be a return to normalcy fairly soon. But I can't say exactly when, when it comes to CCTV.”

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