Basketball fans in Beijing cheered national broadcaster CCTV’s decision to resume broadcasts of NBA games Saturday after a yearlong absence brought on by a dispute over politics in Hong Kong.
CCTV aired Game 5 of the NBA Finals between the Lakers and Miami Heat — the first time the league appeared on the network since the rift that started when Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted support for anti-government protesters in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.
Eighteen-year-old high school student Li Xinyu said he considered the timing meaningful following the death of Lakers great Kobe Bryant earlier this year and his former team’s subsequent playoff run.
“Yes, I am really surprised,” Li said. “It is really shocking and significant for us that we can watch the NBA final again on CCTV’s sports channel.”
Yang Haoyu, also 18, said basketball was bigger than anything one person had said or done.
“The NBA is an organization for all basketball fans and individual behaviors should not have big impact(s) on the sport and make the majority of the fans to suffer,” Yang said.
And like most fans, 22-year-old migrant worker Deng Jinqi was just tired of watching games on his phone.
“Now we can watch the game on a large TV screen and you can even lie on the sofa comfortably to enjoy,” he said.
CCTV quickly halted its relationship with the NBA after Morey’s tweet, even though the post was quickly deleted. China’s Communist leaders are extremely sensitive to anything they view as outside interference in domestic political affairs, including in Hong Kong, a former British colony where protests broke out last year over deteriorating civil liberties.
NBA games have been available to Chinese fans on the streaming service Tencent, another of the league’s broadcast partners.
CCTV’s operator said it had taken note of good wishes extended to Chinese fans during the recently passed Chinese National Day and Mid-Autumn Festival, as well as “the goodwill continuously expressed by the NBA for some time,” including more than $1 million in medical supplies sent to China by the league to assist coronavirus relief efforts there.
The Heat held off the Los Angeles 111-108 to cut the Lakers’ lead in the series to 3-2.