By now, the uproar over the NBA kowtowing to Beijing over a tweet from Daryl Morey showing support for "freedom fighters" in Hong Kong was a shameful episode that has now been largely forgotten by the general public. And with tensions flaring again over the White House's efforts to punish Beijing for the genocide in Xinjiang, a congressional commission on Tuesday is calling on American basketball stars to end their endorsements of Chinese sportswear firms that use cotton grown in the region.
Now that Hong Kong has essentially fallen to Beijing, Xinjiang has replaced Hong Kong as the China human rights issue du jour. And following reports that certain Chinese apparel firms (ANTA, Li-Ning and Peak sportswear, to name a few) had publicly proclaimed their intention to continue using cotton from Xinjiang, the chairs of the bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China sent a letter to a dozen or so NBA players who have deals with these labels urging them to cut ties.
These companies mostly manufacture sneakers and other athletic apparel. According to the Daily Mail, retired NBA All-Star Dwyane Wade has a lifetime deal with Li-Ning, while injured Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson has a contract with ANTA. Peak, which previously had a deal with the New Jersey Nets before the team moved to Brooklyn in 2012, has several current NBA players, including backup Philadelphia 76ers center Dwight Howard.
These deals create "reputational risks" for the players, who are now financially beholden to Beijing. After all, America doesn't need another episode where its most popular sports star is parroting Chinese propaganda.
“Players have continued to sign new deals with Anta Sports,” the letter from Senator Jeff Merkley and Representative Jim McGovern added.
"We believe that commercial relationships with companies that source cotton in Xinjiang create reputational risks for NBA players and the NBA itself,” they said, noting that the U.S. government had determined that the Chinese government was committing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang and barred imports of cotton from the region.
"The NBA and NBA players should not even implicitly be endorsing such horrific human rights abuses," the letter said.
For years now, reporting has confirmed the existence of systematic forced labor in the province, where its mostly Muslim inhabitants engage in forced labor. In the letter, a copy of which was seen by Reuters, lawmakers warned that Anta, Li-Ning and Peak had publicly embraced Xinjiang cotton, "likely making them complicit in the use of forced labor."
“We urge the NBPA to work with its members to raise awareness about the ongoing genocide taking place in Xinjiang and the role of forced labor in the production of products made by brands that NBPA members have endorsed,” the letter said.
“We hope that the result of such efforts would be that the players would leverage their contracts with Anta, Li-Ning, and Peak to push these companies to end their use of Xinjiang cotton. Short of that outcome, we encourage players to end their endorsement deals with these companies,” it said.
Back in September, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said the NBA's long-standing business ties to China (the league's most important growth market oversees) have a "net positive" impact on the "mutual understanding" between the US and Communist China. However, the NBA's standing in China deteriorated after Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted his support for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. That lone tweet prompted China to pull NBA games from airing in the country, costing the league millions and forcing Morey to walk back his comment and apologize, something that horrified American lawmakers.