Ian Begley, SNY.tv | Twitter |
The Nets saw their trip to China as a bonding experience and didn't want to discuss the off-court issues between the NBA and one of its biggest foreign markets.
"In four years here, I've never commented on a political issue or a social issue. I'm just going to continue that way," head coach Kenny Atkinson said Wednesday. "I would love to keep it to our Nets and the on-court stuff, anything you want to know about how we played, our rotations, our pick-and-roll defense, I'd be more than willing to answer that."
The Nets and Lakers were in the middle of a tense geopolitical storm during their stay in China. It started, as you know, with a tweet from Rockets general manager Daryl Morey expressing support Hong Kong demonstrators protesting a number of issues related to China.
Nets coach Kenny Atkinson declined to comment on the China situation pic.twitter.com/KvUgIuvC6O- SNY (@SNYtv) October 16, 2019
The Chinese government took umbrage to the tweet and the initial response by the NBA. Chinese sponsors pulled out of marketing deals surrounding the game.
Earlier in the week, SNY reported two players in China felt like they were put in a 'tough spot' and a 'circus' in China. The next day, the NBA canceled media availability for the opening game. Eventually, media availability was canceled for both teams.
Prior to the games, NBA commissioner Adam Silver met privately with the Lakers and the Nets. Kyrie Irving reportedly said that he didn't want to play if the game was going to be overshadowed by the fallout over Morey's tweet.
"To be honest, everybody's kind of making a big deal about all of that, but what happened was internal and didn't really have anything to do with the politics of the situation," said Joe Harris. "… (Irving) was really just focused on trying to get ready for the games. It was more, not trying to make a political statement or anything like that. It was more just like, we're here to play basketball. Just try to prep and get ready for the regular season."
Caris LeVert acknowledged that the unrest surrounding the game -- which included sponsors pulling out, demonstrations outside of the arena and signage being taken down from buildings -- was unnerving.
"We just tried to block it out but like you said, it's tough to block everything out," LeVert said. "At the end of the day we're human and we see those things," he said. "We just try to stick together as much as we could and focus our sights on the game."
LeBron James admonished Morey for his timing of the tweet and said Morey was "misinformed" on the subject because he wasn't aware of the fallout from the tweet.
The Nets took a different approach, avoiding any commentary on Morey's tweet. Atkinson said the Nets discussed the political issues surrounding the games internally.
"A lot of individual conversations, talked a little bit about it as a team. It's part of my role as a coach to talk about these things and get feedback from the players," he said. "Obviously, I'm not going to share those. But definitely we talked about it."
Irving practiced with the team but declined to comment. Harris said the club spent time with Nets owner Joe Tsai in China.
"I know a lot of the stuff has been blown out of proportion, but I don't think guys felt uncomfortable or unsafe. We were there playing preseason games," Harris said. "Joe (Tsai) had a lot of stuff planned. We had great dinners. The team bonding. There was a lot of good opportunities to hang out. We weren't caught up with a lot of the stuff going on."
Tsai wrote in a Facebook post that the damage from Morey's tweet supporting the Hong Kong demonstrations "will take a long time to repair."
Tsai, a co-founder of Alibaba, a massive Chinese ecommerce company, wrote that Morey's support of the Hong Kong protests touched on a "third-rail" issue for China. Harris said Tsai discussed the post with the team.
"He talked about how he made a post and basically he advised us to read the post and take it from there," Harris said.
It's too early to know whether the financial fallout from the past few days will be severe. There's a chance that players will lose revenue on sneaker and marketing deals in the wake of last week's events. There's also the possibility that the salary cap will decrease, which could lead to less lucrative contracts for players.
Harris downplayed any concern over the potential financial impact.
"To be honest, personally, I already get paid way too much to play a game. I'm not too worried about it," said Harris, who is entering the final season of a two-year, $16 million deal.