Wednesday, December 05, 2007

If China boycotted the NBA

There have been grumblings of a nation-wide Chinese boycott of the NBA on the message boards.

It won't happen, probably... not the entire country's viewing audience, anyway, but if somehow enough viewers were to organize and boycott watching the NBA and buying NBA-related products--or even if they just threatened the NBA office of such a boycott--until Yao Ming gets better officiating, what would happen?

Stern would probably have to listen and probably have to do something, but I'd expect mostly lip service. Lots of promises of this and that, but no real definitive measures would be taken. Yao might get more benefit of the doubt, but he might be unwittingly fostering resentment in some fraternity of NBA referees. How much further the Chinese public and Chinese American citizens here are willing to go one can only imagine. What you can be sure of is backlash in the American media.

Yao would be deemed a crybaby. Who gets an entire country to boycott for a guy when he doesn't get his away... I mean, other than a president. And even though Yao would have nothing to do with it, he would catch all the flak. It's enough that people still sneer (and misguidedly so) that Yao has 1 billion people to vote him into the All-Star game. How about 1 billion people boycotting the NBA? He would get inundated by a prying media and hostile fans, all who just don't know any better, as if he summoned his people to boycott on his behalf. And he would have to explain himself and politely ask the Chinese people not to boycott. And that would have minor backlash of its own, as if Yao didn't appreciate his fans. So, what good exactly what a very specific player-based boycott, do? Seems like the harm outweighs the benefits.

But beyond that hypothetical, it just seems odd to boycott a professional sports league on the basis of one player. The truth is, the officiating is at best very inconsistent in the NBA. If anyone wants to boycott, boycott the whole league. Is anyone else still unsatisfied with Stern's handling of gambling referees and the Donaghy controversy? Does anyone else look at a string of bad calls and swear its point-shaving? In the summer, when the Donaghy incident first went public, there was a lot of talk about public mistrust and how the NBA might suffer, then time passed, pre-season came and went, blockbuster moves were made, hype, hype, hype and suddenly nobody could wait for the NBA to start. And once it did, everyone seemed to be okay with it. But they're not. It's taken some time, it's had to seep back up through their subconscious, but now fans are getting disgruntled and they have something very specific to pin that bad officiating on. And it isn't pretty. So if Stern doesn't do something about his referees--and I'm not saying I have any idea how he can even begin to approach this--it seems like good or bad, for Yao or anyone else, there may be boycotts on the rise.

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