A Chinese-owned teen surveillance app is sponsoring a controversial American sports league under fire for its friendly ties to the Chinese government and its acquiescence in the face of Muslim genocide.
TikTok, which rose to prominence as a technological juggernaut by answering the question, "What if memes, but in real life?," is a primary sponsor of the NBA playoffs on TNT.
The app, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, has been at the center of geopolitical controversy after President Donald Trump demanded TikTok be sold to a U.S. firm to avoid a nationwide ban. Trump signaled his approval over the weekend for a tentative deal that would make Oracle and Walmart minority stakeholders in a new company, TikTok Global, headquartered in the United States.
Trump and others had expressed concern about the relationship between ByteDance and the Chinese government, particularly with respect to the mountains of personal data collected on the roughly 100 million TikTok users in the United States, many of them sexy teenagers who like to film themselves dancing.
The NBA sponsorship is a natural fit. Like TikTok, the basketball league has been criticized for its own close ties to China amid its ongoing efforts to tap into the profitable Chinese market. While NBA league officials, executives, and players have been outspoken in their criticism of social injustices in the United States, they have been increasingly reluctant to say anything that might anger the Chinese government.
Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, for example, was swiftly denounced by NBA officials in 2019 for tweeting a message of solidarity with pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. LeBron James suggested Morey "was either misinformed or not really educated on the situation." The NBA's Chinese Twitter account issued a Mandarin language statement saying the league was "extremely disappointed in the inappropriate comment."
In July, the NBA was forced to terminate its relationship with a basketball training facility in the Chinese province of Xinjiang, the site of an ongoing ethnic cleansing campaign against Uighur Muslims, more than one million of whom are currently held in government-run concentration camps.