NBA cuts off media access to players for remainder of China trip

The NBA announced Friday that the Los Angeles Lakers and the Brooklyn Nets will not talk with reporters for the remainder of their stay in China, where they are set to play one last exhibition game on Saturday.

“We have decided not to hold media availability for our teams for the remainder of our trip in China,” an NBA statement read. “They have been placed into a complicated and unprecedented situation while abroad and we believe it would be unfair to ask them to address these matters in real time.”

ESPN’s Dave McMenamin reports that the decision was the NBA’s and not that of the Chinese government, which forbid the Lakers and Nets from talking with reporters both before and after their pre-season game on Thursday. A league spokesman told McMenamin that the teams are free to hold their own media availabilities but are unlikely to do so considering that the NBA discussed the media lockdown with the players’ association before announcing it.

The NBA has spent the week trying to contain a controversy that started last Friday when Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted out his support of protesters in Hong Kong, drawing condemnation in mainland China and leading several Chinese companies to cut ties with the Rockets. The NBA appeared deferential to China in its first statement on the matter Monday, then gave a statement of support to its players’ and executives’ right to free speech on Tuesday.

Friday’s media shutdown was emblematic of how the NBA is striving to maintain the precarious balance between its relationship with China — with which the league has had a long, financially lucrative relationship — and its players’ right to speak freely. On Thursday, CNN reporter Christina Macfarlane was shut down at a news conference in Tokyo when she tried to ask the Rockets’ James Harden and Russell Westbrook about this week’s events, with a team official telling her to ask “basketball questions only.”

The league later apologized and said Macfarlane should have been allowed to ask her question.

“It’s the biggest story of the week so I felt the question needed to be asked,” Macfarlane told The Post. “I didn’t expect to have to defend my question and I didn’t expect the reaction to be so forceful. I said to the Rockets person that this wasn’t a good look for the NBA.”

Harden, a popular player in China, was one of the last NBA players to comment on the issue Monday, saying “we apologize” for Morey’s tweet and “we love China.”

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