As NBA players settle into bubble life at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, fishing, golfing, playing video games and gearing up for the season’s restart on July 30, a festering question remains concerning the league’s biggest international audience . Before the coronavirus engulfed the planet’s sporting landscape – pausing the NBA season on March 11 – the NBA was at odds with the Chinese Communist Party for one incredibly impactful social media post. On October 4, Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted support for Hong Kong protesters which erupted into an international diplomatic firestorm. Hong Kong exploded into protests last summer after a now shelved extradition bill drew millions to the streets and started months of rioting and demonstrations. Now the city is being gripped by the controversial national security law, which came into effect on June 30 and was quickly used in arresting protesters. Morey, who became public enemy number one overnight in China after his tweet, quickly deleted it and offered an apology, but the dam had cracked. The Chinese Basketball Association severed its lucrative ties with the Rockets, who famously drafted Chinese superstar Yao Ming in 2002. Tencent, the NBA’s exclusive digital partner in China, having signed an extraordinary US$1.5 billion-dollar deal until the 2024-25 season, pulled preseason games from its platforms last October, but resumed showing them – except Rockets’ games. When the Rockets restart the 2019-20 season on August 1 against the Dallas Mavericks there is still no indication you will be able to watch the team play on Tencent, but their games are listed on the website’s schedule. But the team’s homepage on Tencent contains no information about players stats or games, unlike the other 29 teams. Silver hopes for ‘mutual respect’ between NBA and China amid questions CCTV, which holds the exclusive rights for the NBA in China, cancelled the broadcasting of all games and held firm on that stance right up until Rudy Gobert, of the Utah Jazz, became the league’s first player to test positive for Covid-19, subsequently shutting down the league. NBA commissioner Adam Silver, who found himself in Shanghai for a scheduled preseason game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets one week after Morey’s tweet, first criticised his stance, then did an about face and backed his right to freedom of expression. The CCP denied Silver’s claims that they demanded Morey be fired as general manager of the Rockets. Superstar LeBron James found his way into the controversy, offering what many in Hong Kong felt was an unacceptable response to the whole issue in stating Morey “wasn’t educated” on the subject and shouldn’t have sent out the tweet. James became public enemy number one for a brief moment in Hong Kong as protesters burnt his jersey at a basketball court at Wan Chai’s Southorn Playground in demonstration. Even US president Donald Trump waded into the crisis, accusing NBA coaches and officials of “pandering to China”. China’s estimated 500 million NBA fans are probably the last thing on Silver’s mind right now as the league tries to pull off an unprecedented restart during a global pandemic in one of the hardest hit US states in Florida, which is experiencing a massive second wave. To take a knee, or not to take a knee? The NBA, like many professional sporting leagues, just needs to get some games played before they can think about doing anything else. Before Morey’s tweet the NBA had been courting Chinese fans for years, setting up partnerships, hosting games in major cities and actively promoting itself all over the country. The league expanded its fan base exponentially and reaped massive financial benefits from sponsorship agreements to jersey sales. NBA faces balancing act in winning over players Since 2004 the NBA has played two dozen games all over China, and the NBA has offices in Shanghai, Beijing, Taiwan and here in Hong Kong. If Tencent and CCTV start showing games on July 30, it will send an olive branch to the league. But there remains a worst-case scenario that could play out. The Rockets, led by superstars James Harden and Russell Westbrook, were sixth in league standings before the pause and will be a part of the NBA’s unique postseason tournament. Harden and Westbrook are still planning on heading to Florida, according to the Houston Chronicle , and if they make a deep play-off run, this wound is going to get picked at endlessly. Sports fans have been starving for action for months and NBA fans in China will be no different. Many will simply access games via VPNs, but it will do little to solve the crisis at hand. The CCP’s hardline stance on virtually all foreign-policy issues leaves it little wiggle room to budge on this issue. The world’s third most profitable sporting league in the world and the biggest authoritarian regime find themselves engulfed in a tense stalemate. The shot clock is now running and once again the NBA and China find themselves at the line with decisions to make.