Amid ongoing criticism of the NBA and superstars such as LeBron James for defending the Chinese communist regime and ignoring its human-rights abuses, a co-owner of the Golden State Warriors is dismissing concern about the persecution of ethnic Uyghurs.
“Nobody cares about what’s happening to the Uyghurs, OK,” said Chamath Palihapitiya on the latest episode of the “All-In” podcast he co-hosts with fellow Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.
“You bring it up because you care, and I think it’s nice that you care,” the NBA owner said to co-host Jason Calacanis. “The rest of us don’t care. I’m just telling you a very hard, ugly truth. Of all the things that I care about, yes, it is below my line.”
Palihapitiya, a venture capitalist, further questioned how the Beijing regime is commonly characterized in the West.
“I’m not even sure that China is a dictatorship, in the way you want to call it that,” he said.
He also declared he doesn’t have “the moral absolutism to judge China,” and the global community’s narrative about the Uyghurs “may not be true.”
Born in Sri Lanka, Palihapitiya has dual Canadian and American citizenship. He was a senior executive at Facebook from 2007 to 2011 and currently is the CEO of a fund called Social Capital.
See Palihapitiya’s remarks:
Later Monday, the Warriors’ PR department issued a vague statement in response to the widespread negative reaction to Palihapitiya’s remarks.
“As a limited investor who has no day-to-day operating functions with the Warriors, Mr. Palihapitiya does not speak on behalf of our franchise, and his views certainly don’t reflect those of our organization,” the team said in a tweet.
Warriors statement re: Chamath Palihapitiya: pic.twitter.com/zUl6i9sOve
— Warriors PR (@WarriorsPR) January 17, 2022
On the last day of the Trump administration, then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the U.S. had determined the Chinese Communist Party government was committing “ongoing” genocide against “the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and other members of ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang.” Among the “crimes against humanity,” he said, was the “arbitrary imprisonment” of over 1 million people, who have suffered torture, forced sterilization and forced labor.
Last month, Pompeo called on the U.S. to boycott the Winter Olympics in Beijing because of the regime’s “disregard for human rights at home and abroad,” evoking Adolf Hitler’s exploitation of the 1936 summer games in Berlin to showcase the Nazi regime.
In 2019, the NBA punished Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey for provoking Beijing’s wrath. Morey’s crime was to express support via Twitter for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. His tweet was removed, and the Rockets issued a statement distancing themselves from his remarks.
NBC Sports reported the league went into “full damage control mode.” Then-Houston superstar James Harden “praised the NBA’s relationship with China, and other players were backing the party line.”
But the NBA nevertheless lost sponsorships and deals in China, and NBA games were taken off state television. Overall, NBC said, Morey’s tweet likely cost the NBA $400 million.
Later that year, German soccer star Mesut Ozil, whose family origins are in Turkey, criticized China’s oppression of Muslim Uyghurs in an Instagram post. His English club, Arsenal, distanced itself from his comments, and China erased him from its video apps and internet forums.
Morey told ESPN last December he was “very comfortable” with the statement he made in support of the Hong Kong protesters. But he said he was “extremely concerned” about his family’s safety, and he thought at one point that the tweet might end his career.
“You don’t want the second-most powerful government on Earth mad at you, if you can avoid it. In this case, I couldn’t,” said Morey, who now is the Philadelphia 76ers president of basketball operations.
Last October, China’s video-streaming giant Tencent shut down the live broadcast of a game between the Boston Celtics and the New York Knicks after Celtics player Enes Kanter posted a video on Twitter describing Chinese President Xi Jinping as a “brutal dictator” and calling for the independence of Tibet.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver acknowledged in an interview with Time in April 2021 that the league’s “most significant television partner is Tencent,” which serves “hundreds of millions of fans in China.”
The NBA boss said a “so-called boycott” of China based on “legitimate criticisms of the Chinese system” would not “further the agenda of those who seek to bring about global change.”
“Working with Chinese solely on NBA basketball has been a net plus for building relationships between two superpowers,” Silver said.
In November, Kanter, who grew up in Turkey, proudly changed his name to Enes Kanter Freedom to celebrate becoming an American citizen.
He told CNN the name change reflected the “fight” for freedom he has waged throughout his life after growing up under an oppressive regime.
“Here [in the U.S.] there is freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of expression, freedom of the press,” he said. “I didn’t have any of those with Turkey.”
Kanter also has called Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan a “dictator.” In 2019, Turkish authorities filed an international arrest warrant, accusing him of allying with groups that tried to overthrow the Erdogan regime in 2016. He denies the allegations.
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