(Update: Upon discussion with NBA PR, we made some changes pertaining to the details of certain incidents.)
There used to be a time when tweets were just tweets but, quite evidently, these times are no more.
Last week, a few words posted on popular social media platform Twitter - they didn't even meet the previous 140-word limit - blew the cover off what we thought was freedom of speech off and laid bare the ugly truth: you either shut up and get with China's program or you get curved.
The NBA has had a fruitful relationship with China and its government for many years. Yet the posting of a single tweet - which was deleted shortly after, mind you - threatens to destroy everything the league has worked so hard to build. Even the gaming industry has been affected, with plans for the NBA 2K League in China now hanging in the balance.
This all started when Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey posted a tweet standing in solidarity with protestors in Hong Kong. If you didn't know it before, China takes censorship very seriously and anything deemed to be in opposition to their governing is met with swift action.
Within hours, big Chinese sponsors pulled out of deals with the Rockets and the NBA, shut down NBA Care events that were scheduled to be hosted by the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets, took down posters of stars from the teams, and stopped broadcasting the league's preseason games.
It's been a really rocky week for the NBA, whose commissioner Adam Silver has been working tirelessly to retain some semblance of a partnership with China in what many consider to be caving to dictatorship.
Silver has attempted to appease both sides by defending the right to free speech, but that brought about even more of a backlash and there's no telling where things might go in the coming days.
"At the same time, we recognize that our two countries have different political systems and beliefs. And like many global brands, we bring our business to places with different political systems around the world," he said in a statement. "But for those who question our motivation, this is about far more than growing our business."
China's television network CCTV is backed by the government and, having already refused to broadcast games, they've announced plans to examine all partnerships and communications with the NBA. That leaves Esports titles like NBA 2K20 in danger of being ousted.
Gen.G Esports recently revealed plans to field a Chinese team for the NBA 2K League but the threat of it being shut down is very real. While the team will be training at Gen.G's Los Angeles headquarters, there's still a chance of things being impacted on that front.
While the country allowed the Lakers vs Nets games to go on, there was zero media availability for coaches or players as the league thought it best not to have teams speak to any outlets as it would have been "unfair to ask them to address these matters in real time."
There were no anthems sung before the game either, with various outlets noting as much, but NBA PR has clarified with claims that the league had never played anthems in China anyway.
Even a fan watching a game on US soil was ejected from the Philadelphia 76ers' Wells Fargo Center for having a poster protesting China's actions whilst in the stands. Wells Fargo has issued a statement on this, reporting that two individuals were escorted outside of the arena by security after receiving three separate warnings over being disruptive.
The Sixers also released comment on the incident, stating that the arena's event staff is responsible for security and the comfort of all guests. The team insisted that the decision was made by Wells Fargo personnel.
It's still unclear how all this will play out, but the NBA is walking a fine line at the moment. Any attempts to show bravery will result in huge financial losses across the board that should also affect the Esports industry. Adversely, bending to the Chinese government will certainly repair some relationships but will leave the league looking like a cowardly business whose only concern is monetary gain.
According to Silver, "the NBA will not put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees and team owners say or will not say on these issues."
"We simply could not operate that way," he adds.
The commissioner seems to have tried to handle the situation as best he can and it should be understood that he's been placed in a very precarious position through no fault of his own. We do hope that things could be resolved as quickly as possible, given how damaging this could be for everyone involved.