The coronavirus pandemic has put a timeout on basketball. It has also put a timeout on the battle between China and the NBA. Now, ahead of the NBA’s mooted restart , the war of words has been reignited and hostilities resumed. Chinese state broadcaster CCTV has set its stall out, doubling down on its commitment to not show NBA games even if the season resumes. CCTV posted a statement on its Weibo on Monday “reiterating its consistent stance on national sovereignty” in an effort to shoot down speculation that things had changed in the past seven months. China’s basketball fans have not seen an NBA game on TV since October and with sports cancelled worldwide because of the coronavirus, the hope was the action would be welcomed back. Not so, CCTV stated, which would rather show repeats than let the NBA back on the air. The tone of most comments on the Sina Sports portal suggests that national honour is more important to fans than live basketball. While there is a chance that these are being churned out by comment farms, what better time to galvanise the nation with some anti-American nationalistic fervour? Seven months on from Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey’s tweet supporting the anti-government protesters in Hong Kong, the row has returned. Nothing to see here, just PRC state media's id calling for the firing of a prominent American citizen who does not work in China because of a single tweet that person sent. https://t.co/S2zeh0PM8X — Matt Schrader (@tombschrader) May 12, 2020 While the coronavirus has allowed people to return to Hong Kong’s streets, the prospect of basketball’s return has reignited the touchpaper lit by Morey. Both CCTV and online streaming partner Tencent dropped games , while the Rockets were deleted from the Chinese internet with references to “a certain team” or “Team 404” standing in as euphemisms. There was a thaw of sorts when Tencent started showing everyone but the Rockets, although the NBA went dark again when it was CBA All-Star weekend. That has not been an issue since the NBA pulled games in March. The imminent return of the NBA is not the only reason this has reignited. Michael Ma Xiaofei is the new head of NBA China, becoming the first Chinese national to head up its mainland operations. There are those, presumably at the NBA that hoped Ma would be able to calm the waters, not least because his father, Ma Guoli, was key to CCTV broadcasting live NBA games in the 1990s. They might have to think again. CCTV got its retaliation in early, reconfirming the blackout before Ma was announced as the new China executive. Outspoken nationalist newspaper Global Times went further in an article headlined “Naming native Chinese as NBA China boss ‘not enough’ to win mainland market back”. The article cited “prominent commentators and fans” who noted that if the NBA “wants to win its way back to the Chinese mainland market, it should properly handle Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey”. Short of putting his head on a spike, colleagues in Chinese sports media say that means the NBA must fire him – and that they can see no other option. NBA commissioner Adam Silver said last October when tensions were at their height that China had asked for US citizen Morey to be fired for his tweet but he stood firm. Now it seems the pressure is back on. “Chinese netizens commented on the NBA official reshuffle,” the Global Times reported, “and many said they could not care less about the US league, unless Morey is punished for his misbehaviour.” The message is clear. Chinese basketball commentator Su Qun went further. “If the Morey incident is properly handled,” he told the Global Times , “the NBA, in the long run, could demonstrate that China welcomes foreign businesses to invest and make money in the country, as long as they respect the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” Silver was pretty clear last year that Morey would not be "handled" (whatever that means here). US and Chinese perspectives remain starkly contrasted 7+ months later. https://t.co/iCiGZ5Iata — Mark Dreyer (@DreyerChina) May 13, 2020 Let’s say the timing is interesting. The NBA is gearing up to resume, and likely before the Chinese Basketball Association does and it has a new boss in China. Coupled with the NBA’s admission to struggling financially amid the coronavirus pandemic – losses which ESPN put in the hundreds of millions of dollars – on top of the financial hit it took from China in the Morey fallout, has put it in a difficult position. It seems China sees this as its opportunity to remind the NBA who calls the tune in their billion-dollar relationship. If you want things to get back to normal, then do as we say. Morey, for all his silence, has not actually gone anywhere, and just as quietly he was leading the Rockets to the playoffs, one game back from Utah Jazz in fourth on the Western conference standings when the action stopped. The Rockets making the playoffs adds another layer of intrigue to all of this. How does the blackout work for Tencent, say, if the Rockets keep winning? NBA or Team USA eye return to China this year, says Silver If they went all the way it would be a disaster. Former Rocket (and CBA chief) Yao Ming would not know where to look, nor would his adviser, Ma senior. The Rockets were one of the biggest teams in China, with James Harden one of the league’s biggest stars. Whatever form the NBA takes when it resumes there will be plenty hoping the Rockets disappear just as quickly from the playoff picture as they did from the Chinese internet. We have learned a few things in our lockdown timeout: basketball can make headlines even without playing, time does not heal all wounds and China always wins. Can they really not show the NBA? Just try them. Help us understand what you are interested in so that we can improve SCMP and provide a better experience for you. We would like to invite you to take this five-minute survey on how you engage with SCMP and the news.