NBA Will Shutter Chinese Training Center

League operated center in same city as Muslim concentration camps

NBA commissioner Adam Silver / Getty Images
July 22, 2020

The NBA announced Tuesday that it has terminated its relationship with a league-run training academy in Xinjiang, China—the region in which the communist nation is reportedly holding roughly one million Uyghur Muslims in concentration camps.

The announcement follows a June 30 letter from Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.) to NBA commissioner Adam Silver. Blackburn highlighted the league’s operation of an NBA academy in Xinjiang, which Blackburn described as "one of the world’s worst humanitarian zones."

The Tennessee Republican detailed ongoing atrocities in the region. Her letter noted that the "800,000 and possibly more than 2 million Uyghurs and ethnic Kazakhs" detained in Xinjiang concentration camps endure "torture, physical abuse, and prolonged detention without trial." The letter also said China used "sterilization treatments and forced abortions in a barbaric attempt to reduce Uyghur birth rates."

"The NBA reportedly continues to operate a training center [in] Xinjiang," Blackburn wrote. "What steps is the NBA taking to shutter this location?"

NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum responded to Blackburn’s letter Tuesday, writing that the league "has had no involvement with the Xinjiang basketball academy for more than a year, and the relationship has been terminated."

Blackburn praised the league's decision to "abandon its footprint in Xinjiang," calling it "the right way to condemn Chinese oppression." The GOP senator, however, criticized Tatum's response to scrutiny over the league’s relationship with Chinese tech giant Alibaba, which Blackburn described as a "state-owned enterprise."

Tatum revealed that the league has a "multi-year contractual relationship" with the company and downplayed its ties to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), noting that "Alibaba is listed on the New York Stock Exchange and Hong Kong Stock Exchange, and most shares are held by institutional investors." Alibaba’s founder and former chairman, Jack Ma, is a CCP member. Blackburn said the league’s continued partnership with the company "remains a cause for concern."

"Chinese companies are notorious for stealing American intellectual property and technology, and these thefts have cost our businesses billions of dollars," Blackburn said in a statement. "The NBA’s continued financial relationship with Alibaba requires a closer look."

Tatum's response marks the league's latest attempt to navigate ongoing criticism over its relationship with the communist regime. Sen. Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) indicated he would support a subpoena of Silver to further reveal the nature of the relationship—the Missouri Republican on Tuesday accused the league of profiting off of forced labor in the Uyghur concentration camps.

"I want to challenge these major American corporations, like Nike, like the NBA, who rely on forced slave labor overseas to make their products," Hawley said during a Fox News appearance. "Uyghur concentration camps, for instance, help make those Nike uniforms that the NBA wears. They should pledge right now—Nike, the NBA, and all these American corporations—that they will not use forced slave labor."