I recently engaged in a lot of conversations with friends of mine about the NBA controversy in China. Some of you may recall the Houston Rockets general manager put out a tweet supporting Hong Kong and their fight for a little bit more autonomy from the stricter rules imposted recently by the Chinese Central Government. This caused a real backlash for the NBA in that country. Some NBA-planned events in China got canceled and that doesn’t appear to stop anytime soon.
However, I really think if you look at this from a Crisis PR standpoint, a crisis PR standpoint that the commissioner, Adam Silver, did about as good of a job as he could, he’s really caught in the crosshairs of something that’s not winnable. On one hand, Silver’s got the Chinese Government who’s saying that you really aren’t supposed to get into our, what they would call an internal political business. At the same token, he’s got a North American audience that favors coaches and general managers speaking very publicly about issues in the political realm that they deem important.
What Commissioner Silver basically did is say, “Look, we’re not here to take a political side, but we support free speech and we allow our players and our coaches and ownerships to do that.” And while it certainly didn’t appease anyone, I think he ran the best scenario possible.
Company executives take note. If you find yourself just being besieged from all sides about a sensitive issue, stick true to your values in your response. Stay on message and keep that message of one that certainly demonstrates empathy and action toward all parties and all different points of views. But at the end, don’t try to thread a middle ground because there may just not be one.
In this case, I think the NBA did a great job.