China’s CCTV shows NBA game, ending 18-month blackout

A man walks past an NBA logo at an NBA exhibition in Beijing
FILE PHOTO: A man walks past an NBA logo at an NBA exhibition in Beijing, China October 8, 2019. REUTERS/Jason Lee

March 30, 2022

BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese state broadcaster CCTV aired a National Basketball Association (NBA) game for the first time in 18 months on Wednesday, raising hopes that relations between the league and China were on the mend after a 2019 rift.

The game between the Los Angeles Clippers and the Utah Jazz was aired live on China Central Television’s (CCTV) sports channel on Wednesday, according to its broadcasting schedule.

The last time the broadcaster aired an NBA game was in October 2020, according to government-owned news outlet ThePaper.cn.

The NBA, one of the most popular U.S. cultural exports in China, makes hundreds of millions of dollars every year from its presence in the Chinese market but the decades-long partnership with CCTV was rocked in October 2019.

Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey that month tweeted in support of the protests in Hong Kong, a Chinese-ruled city that was embroiled in a political crisis due to months of anti-government protests stemming from a controversial extradition bill.

While the tweet was quickly deleted, it drew strong criticism in China. State media, including CCTV, criticised Morey for his tweet, which was labelled an example of Western interference in a bid to stir up anti-China sentiment, while Chinese partners severed or suspended ties with the NBA.

The broadcaster immediately stopped showing NBA games and the blackout stretched on for over 28 months, barring the one-off showing of the NBA Finals in October 2020.

CCTV did not announce the airing of Wednesday’s game and has not yet mentioned it. The end of the first NBA game drought in October 2020 was announced by the broadcaster. A spokesperson said at the time that the NBA had expressed goodwill for some time and had “made active efforts to support the Chinese people in their fight against COVID-19.”

NBA’s China branch did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

CCTV holds exclusive TV rights in China for the NBA, while tech giant Tencent Holdings has exclusive internet streaming rights in the country.

(Reporting by Eduardo Baptista, editing by Pritha Sarkar)