In a combative conversation with Megyn Kelly, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban condemned China for its human rights violations but declined to make a full, direct statement singling out Beijing for its campaign against its ethnic minority Uighur population — highlighting the tricky politics of doing ethical business with China.
It blacked out the games last fall in retaliation over a single, hastily deleted tweet from Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey that expressed support for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, a movement that angers Beijing. The decision caused the league losses of as much as $400 million, NBA commissioner Adam Silver has previously said.
At the end of her podcast “The Megyn Kelly Show” Monday, Kelly asked Cuban about whether the NBA “needs to get more vocal in condemning what we’re now seeing” in Xinjiang — another hot button issue for the retaliatory Chinese regime.
At least a million members of the mostly Muslim Uighur minority are being held in camps there, where reports show they face abuse, forced labor, and even forced sterilizations and abortions as part of a government campaign to assimilate them into the majority Han population.
When asked directly why the NBA would take so many millions in revenue from a country “that’s engaging in ethnic cleansing,” Cuban said: “Because they are a customer. They are a customer of ours, and guess what, Megan? I’m okay with doing business with China.”
“Basically, you’re saying that nobody should do business with China, ever,” he continued. “I wish I could solve all the world’s problems, Megan, and I’m sure you do too. But we can’t. So we have to pick our battles. And while you’d like to create proclamations so you can get a clip and say, ‘look what I got Mark to say,’ you don’t want to deal with the actual action item.”
In his view, that action item would be to increase the number of slots available in the U.S. for asylum seekers, he said, a process that he has approached the State Department about and been involved in.
Notably, however, Cuban still refused to specifically condemn China on the Xinjiang crisis in particular.
A closer look at their back-and-forth reveals the strange dance between a conservative contingent quick to call out the moral problem of doing business with China yet not inclined to take in more refugees, and the entertainment industry leaders who want China’s renminbi yet side with social justice issues at home.
When first asked about Xinjiang, Cuban specified he wished to speak only for himself, and in a general fashion. “I personally put a priority on domestic issues. When it comes to human rights, I’m against all human rights violations around the world. China’s not the only country with human rights violations,” he said.
After being pushed twice on the matter, he finally conceded: “I’m against human rights violations everywhere, including in China.”
But another push from Kelly provoked another sidestep.
“Let’s get specific. Do you condemn the genocide that’s going on right now in China towards the Uighurs?” she asked. He declined to do so directly by once again condemning “all human rights violations,” and when asked why, blamed the clickbait media environment: “The way proclamations work in this country, the minute you say them anywhere, you’re going to use this as a headline.”
“What’s wrong with that headline? Cuban condemns ethnic cleansing in China?” Kelly challenged.
“Because I gotta deal with the troll bots then. What’s more important are what actions do I think are important to deal with these issues. You want proclamations, but when I try to talk about actions, you ignore them and say I’m evading the question.”
The NBA has tread a thorny path with China and politics this year. In addition to facing the costly Chinese backlash over Morey’s tweet, the league has come under fire stateside for running a basketball training academy in Xinjiang. In response to a critical letter from Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, an NBA spokesman said in July that the academy, founded in 2016, had been shuttered last spring.
Concerns have also grown about the use of forced Uighur labor in the making of sports apparel for firms like Nike, whose products are then used by the NBA.
Despite ending the conversation at loggerheads, Kelly tipped her hat to Cuban in the intro to her podcast, acknowledging: “I give him a lot of credit for engaging, because most guys in his position, certainly, in the NBA, would never have deigned to take the time. So my hat is off to him.”