China to Broadcast NBA Finals Game 5 After Year-long Blackout, State TV Channel Says

The NBA will be reportedly broadcast in China just over a year after it was originally taken off the air after being embroiled in a freedom of speech stand-off that originated over comments a Houston Rockets executive made over protests in Hong Kong.

On Friday, Chinese state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) announced on social media platform Weibo that it will broadcast Game 5 of the NBA Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Miami Heat, which is scheduled for Friday night at 9 p.m. ET.

CCTV will reportedly broadcast Game 5 live, with a replay to be shown on Saturday, October 10.

The NBA has been subject to a blackout in China since Rockets general manager Daryl Morey shared his support for protesters in Hong Kong 12 months ago.

"Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong," Morey tweeted on October 4 last year, referring to the protest movement that had started in the semiautonomous Chinese territory in March 2019.

The NBA has been subject to a blackout in China since Rockets general manager Daryl Morey shared his support for protesters in Hong Kong in October last year.

"Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong," Morey tweeted on October 4 referring to the protest movement that had started in the semiautonomous Chinese territory in March 2019.

The tweet sparked a major diplomatic incident between the NBA and Chinese authorities. The Chinese Basketball Association, whose president, Yao Ming, spent eight seasons with the Rockets, immediately suspended its relationship with the franchise.

CCTV and Tencent, one of the NBA's main media partner in the country with a streaming deal worth $1.5 billion over five years, also took actions and both vowed not to show Rockets games.

Rockets owner looked to defuse the incident by distancing himself and the franchise from Morey's stance, while the latter subsequently deleted the original tweet and offered an apology.

"I did not intend my tweet to cause any offense to Rockets fans and friends of mine in China," Morey tweeted a few days later.

"I was merely voicing one thought, based on one interpretation, of one complicated event. I have had a lot of opportunity since that tweet to hear and consider other perspectives.

"I have always appreciated the significant support our Chinese fans and sponsors have provided and I would hope that those who are upset will know that offending or misunderstanding them was not my intention. My tweets are my own and in no way represent the Rockets or the NBA."

Both CCTV and Tencet extended the blackout to the entire league after NBA executives supported Morey's right to freedom of expression.

Rumors the tide may be turning for the NBA in China first surfaced in May, when the league appointed Michael Ma, the son of CCTV Sports executive Ma Guoli, as the CEO of NBA China, which handles the league's business ventures in the country.

The broadcaster, however, firmly pushed back on the speculation.

"On issues concerning China's sovereignty, CCTV Sports' attitude is solemn, clear and consistent with no room whatsoever for ambiguity or manoeuvre," CCTV said in a statement issued in May.

China is one of the biggest overseas markets for the NBA and, according to Forbes, NBA China has grown to be worth over $4 billion after being launched in 2008. In the season before the blackout, the NBA estimated 800 million viewers in China tuned in to watch games.

Speaking in February this year during the All-Star Weekend in Chicago, NBA commissioner Adam Silver conceded the blackout had dealt the league a big financial blow worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

"Probably less than $400 million, maybe even less than that," Silver said when asked to put the impact of the blackout into context.

"It's substantial. I don't want to run from that. We were taken off the air in China for a period of time, and it caused our many business partners in China to feel it was, therefore, inappropriate to have ongoing relationships with us."

The blow was partially softened in July, when Tencent resumed streaming NBA games as the league emerged from a four-month lockdown because due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Newsweek has contacted the NBA for comment.

LeBron James, Jimmy Butler, NBA
Jimmy Butler #22 of the Miami Heat defends LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the fourth quarter of Game 4 of the 2020 NBA Finals at AdventHealth Arena at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on October 6 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Kevin C. Cox/Getty