China Touts ‘Significant Commercial Opportunities’ for NBA Stars with Giannis Antetokounmpo Visit

china touts significant commercial opportunities for nba stars with giannis antetokounmpo visit
Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

China’s state-run propaganda newspaper Global Times celebrated on Monday the arrival of Giannis Antetokounmpo in Beijing, the first NBA star of his caliber in the league to visit the country since the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic began.

Antetokounmpo, of the Milwaukee Bucks, led his team to the 2021 NBA championship and has since risen to become one of the most popular players in the league. He arrived in China on Wednesday with brothers and fellow basketball players Thanasis and Alex Emeka in tow and has spent the past week enjoying the sights in Beijing and Guangzhou, posting frequently to social media about his love for China:

The Global Times noted that the Antetokounmpo family’s arrival sends a signal to other NBA players that “significant commercial opportunities” exist for them in China, essentially making a statement that cooperation with the Chinese Communist Party is not only safe, but lucrative after years of human rights activists and members of Congress have condemned the NBA for insisting on a friendly relationship with America’s top geopolitical adversary.

At press time, Antetokounmpo has not made any public statements from China condemning China’s ongoing genocide of ethnic Uyghur and other Turkic peoples in occupied East Turkistan, ethnic cleansing campaigns in occupied Tibet and Inner Mongolia, or the brutal repression of Christians, Muslims, Falun Gong practitioners, or other people of faith. None of his social media posts at press time have addressed the widespread use of slavery in Chinese factories, which produce much of the world’s athletic equipment:

The NBA has spent years cultivating a highly lucrative presence in China under the purview of the Communist Party, which in addition to being one of the world’s most violent state repressors is also the world’s worst polluter and regularly launches illegal invasions of its neighbors. A report last year estimated that NBA owners at the time had invested more than $10 billion in China, including merchandise, broadcasting rights, sponsorships, and other team-related deals. That relationship has brought the NBA significant negative press, as it has required the censorship of players and team officials. The NBA has also been accused of having a direct hand in some of China’s most egregious human rights violations – by maintaining, for example, a reportedly abusive training camp in the capital of East Turkistan mid-Uyghur genocide – and attracted condemnation from the U.S. Congress. The NBA terminated its agreement with the training camp in 2020, as the Communist Party locked down the nation in response to the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic.

The Global Times, which has effusively celebrated NBA stars who ignore human rights concerns to make money in China, noted on Monday that Antetokounmpo is extremely popular in China and has been repeatedly mobbed by fans in multiple cities.

The state newspaper narrated:

Despite not being the first NBA star to visit China this year, the presence of Antetokounmpo – known in China as “Letter Bro” due to the difficulty of pronouncing his surname – backed by his honors such as back-to-back NBA regular season MVP awards in 2019 and 2020 as well as an NBA championship title in 2021, ignited a wave of fervent excitement among fans.

The paper added that “the popularity of Letter Bro in China was evident as the fans followed his bus by taking pictures, with them wearing the Bucks shirt with Antetokounmpo’s name and number on it”:

“Though this was not his first trip to China, the ‘Greek Freak’ seemed to embrace his nickname, even posting a picture on Instagram on his flight to China, captioned as ‘Greetings from the Letter Bro!'” the propaganda outlet noted.

The Chinese Communist Party does not allow its citizens legal access to Instagram:

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A post shared by Giannis Ugo Antetokounmpo (@giannis_an34)

In addition to fan meet-and-greets, Antetokounmpo coached a children’s basketball team and engaged in several public events with Chinese children, intended to develop robust fan bases in the next generation. The Global Times acknowledged the power of such in-person exchanges.

“Bearing the accolades he has won, Antetokounmpo could inspire and motivate young players to pursue their passion for the sport,” the outlet noted. “It enables the NBA stars to interact closely with Chinese players and fans, fostering a love for sports in general and basketball in particular, especially among the youngsters.”

The Global Times, nonetheless, observed that Antetokounmpo’s presence in China reminded other players that communist China offered “significant commercial opportunities” for those who chose to stay silent about the regime’s atrocities.

China has become a dominant market for the NBA despite the government’s ongoing human rights atrocities and its total control of the economy as a communist system.

During Antetokounmpo’s visit to the White House in 2021, following the Milwaukee Bucks’ NBA championship victory that year, leftist President Joe Biden appeared to celebrate this, boasting that he had allegedly played basketball with genocidal Chinese dictator Xi Jinping.

china touts significant commercial opportunities for nba stars with giannis antetokounmpo visit

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks as he honors the Milwaukee Bucks for winning the 2021 NBA Championship during an event on the South Lawn at the White House on November 08, 2021, in Washington, DC (Win McNamee/Getty Images).

“We are seeing a distinctly American game become the fastest-growing sport in the world. The fastest-growing sport in the world,” Biden said at the time. “When I first went to Beijing to meet with Xi Jinping, he put me on a basketball court. I’m not like these guys – I can play a little bit – but he put me on a basketball court.”

“And I’m thinking to myself, ‘everywhere in the world I go, as I travel the world: basketball,’” he mused.

Biden did not clarify when he played basketball with Xi, but it appeared to be a reference to a trip to China in 2011, when both Xi and Biden served as vice presidents of their respective countries.

Biden also celebrated Antetokounmpo’s journey as a Greek immigrant and his victory in the championship alongside teammate and brother Thanasis.

“At just 26 years old, you’re just getting started,” Biden said adding:

What makes it even more special is you won the title with your brother, who is here today. And you join another brother already with a ring. What a hell of a family. Sons living the dream of an immigrant family from Nigeria and then Greece in search of new opportunity. In struggles, they always dreamed. Brothers who once had to share the same basketball shoes, all five of them, before they got to the NBA.

At the time, Congress had begun pressuring the NBA to distance itself from supporting China’s human rights atrocities in the aftermath of the Daryl Morey affair. Morey, a former general manager for the Houston Rockets, had publicly expressed support for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong in 2019, prompting the Chinese government to cut ties with the Rockets and censor NBA games. Morey received criticism from one of the biggest beneficiaries of business deals with China, LeBron James, who blasted Morey as selfish and “uneducated” for opposing police brutality and oppression in Hong Kong. Morey ultimately left the Rockets and landed a job with the Philadelphia 76ers, prompting China to block 76ers games in the country.

china touts significant commercial opportunities for nba stars with giannis antetokounmpo visit

LeBron James attends a NIKE promotional event on August 13, 2011, in Chengdu, Sichuan Province of China (Visual China Group/Getty Images).

“Americans can’t and shouldn’t conduct business with companies and players that profit through human slavery. And that includes NBA players — they can’t sign endorsement deals and benefit off slave labor,” Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) said in 2021, referring to extensive evidence of major NBA partners, such as Nike, benefitting from Uyghur slavery and manufacturing using Chinese suppliers tied to the Uyghur slave trade.

Congress has continued to oppose Chinese dominance of American basketball. On Tuesday, the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), a bicameral body, will host a hearing on corporations that partner with communist China. Enes Kanter, a former NBA player who found himself sidelined after condemning China’s human rights atrocities, is scheduled to testify about his experiences.

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Authored by Frances Martel via Breitbart July 10th 2023