America will be watching Friday’s NBA Finals Game 5 between the Los Angeles Lakers—who can clinch their 17th title with a victory—and the Eastern Conference champion Miami Heat. And for the first time in over a year, so will China.
According to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, Game 5 will air on state-run CCTV (China Central Television), marking China’s first NBA broadcast since Rockets GM Daryl Morey caused an uproar last year by tweeting his support for protestors in Hong Kong. China severed ties with the league shortly after, though apparently recent events have caused a change of heart.
The NBA earned its way back into China’s good graces by supplying medical equipment and donating over $1 million earlier this year. The league also made sure to acknowledge China’s National Day and Mid-Autumn celebrations, which were both held recently. In addition to those peace offerings, China has been impressed with how the NBA has handled the ongoing COVID pandemic.
“During the recent Chinese National Day and Mid-Autumn Festival celebrations, the NBA sent their well wishes to fans in China,” CCTV shared in a statement addressing the network’s decision to resume NBA broadcasts. “We also took note of the league continuously delivering goodwill, particularly making positive contributions to Chinese people's fight against the COVID-19 pandemic."
Morey’s misstep last year was a costly one for the NBA with commissioner Adam Silver noting in February that the league was facing over $300 million in losses as a result of Chinese companies pulling their sponsorship. The NBA’s recent hiring of Michael Ma as its head of Chinese operations was aimed at restoring the league’s fractured relationship with China. Ma’s ties to CCTV—his father Ma Guoli founded CCTV Sports—have no doubt helped the NBA in its quest to mend fences with China which, at one time, was one of the league’s most ardent supporters.
China first began airing NBA broadcasts in the 1990s with interest spiking a decade later when Chinese icon Yao Ming starred, ironically enough, for the Houston Rockets.