By Jason Cruz
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Welcome to another edition of The Layup Drill. In this edition, we take a look at the Sounders winning another MLS Cup, Kurt Suzuki’s White House appearance, and the China-NBA issues.
Seattle celebrates Sounders’ 2nd MLS cup
Thousands of fans gathered across downtown Seattle on Nov. 12 to celebrate the Seattle Sounders’ MLS Cup victory and championship. It began at Westlake Park and ended with a rally at Seattle Center.
The Sounders won its second MLS Cup, the championship game for Major League Soccer, on Nov. 10 against the Toronto FC. All three times have come up against Toronto FC. It was the first time that the MLS Cup was at CenturyLink Field.
South Korea’s Kim Kee-Hee has been a part of the Sounders’ surge to the finals. He started the final match against Toronto FC. The center-back helped the Sounders upset the LAFC in Los Angeles, 3-1, to make it to the MLS Cup. LAFC was the top MLS team in the regular season and was one of the favorites to win it all this year.
“I didn’t speak English well at the time, but I speak soccer,” said Kim, 30, about his move to Seattle and the transition to play in the United States. “Soccer is one language,” noting that he could communicate through the universal language of the sport, despite the fact that he did not have a command of the English language.
The 69,274 fans in attendance was a record for CenturyLink Field, the largest crowd to see a soccer match in Seattle.
Suzuki dons MAGA hat during White House visit
The Washington Nationals franchise earned its first World Series Championship by beating the Houston Astros in 7 games (4-3). The win leaves the Seattle Mariners as the only franchise in Major League Baseball that hasn’t made it to a World Series. The Nationals were underdogs heading into the series against the Astros. The team came back from a 19-win and 31-loss record back in May to make it to the playoffs, beat the team with the most wins in the regular season this year, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and make it to the World Series.
One of the contributors of the team was Kurt Suzuki. The veteran catcher played most of his career with the Oakland Athletics, Atlanta Braves, and Washington Nationals. Suzuki previously played with the Nationals in 2012 and returned this past season.
Although one of its members decided not to make the customary trip to the White House to visit the president, many did. Nationals pitcher Sean Doolittle decided not to attend due to the divisiveness the president has caused based on his policies and his derogatory remarks about others. But Suzuki attended and perhaps went over and above the call. He put on a “Make America Great Again” hat and thanked President Trump for the invitation to the White House and his leadership. Trump gave him an awkward hug.
In the past, several teams have declined a White House invitation, a custom in American culture. Most notably, the Golden State Warriors refused due to Trump’s polarizing personality.
NBA deals with aftermath of GM’s tweet
The NBA season started this past October and immediately was embroiled in controversy when Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey tweeted support for protesters in Hong Kong. The original protests in Hong Kong came over a proposed law that would allow extradition to China under certain circumstances. Many believed that the law would lead to unfair trials and sentences. This offended China at a time when the NBA was scheduled to play preseason games in the country. The NBA has partnered with China and sees the country as a huge source of revenue. According to a report from Yahoo! Sports, China is the most significant growth market for the NBA. But, with Morey’s tweet, which he deleted after backlash, the Chinese government and its businesses were not amused.
This caused some NBA stars, who have business dealings with China, to walk back any inference of support for those in Hong Kong that support a sovereign state. James Harden and Russell Westbrook of the Houston Rockets expressed their support for China as both stars have business interests in the country. Harden, with Westbrook standing next to him during an interview session with reporters this past October, stated, “We apologize. You know, we love China. We love playing there.” A lot of the top NBA stars visit China on tours in support of the NBA and their own business brands.
The NBA, the most forward-thinking league of the major sports, remained mute about the issues with China. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver stated that the league took a “fairly dramatic” business hit as a result of the comment made by Morey. The Houston Rockets seemed the most affected. China Central Television stopped airing Rockets games, Tencent stopped streaming games, and Alibaba pulled Rockets merchandise from its online NBA store. In addition, shoe sponsor, Anta, stopped talking about renewing sneaker deals for some of its NBA players that wore the brand.
Some of the most outspoken NBA players and coaches towed the company line about the situation in China, which seems to infer that they were either told to refrain from criticism, or believed they should not speak out and did not want to stir further controversy.
Notably, LeBron James, known for not backing away from controversial social issues, punted on his chance to speak out about Hong Kong, citing it as complicated.
“I felt like with this particular situation, it was something that not only was I not informed enough about, I just felt like it was something that not myself and my teammates or our organization had enough information to event talk about it at that point in time, and we still feel the same way,” James told reporters. He noted that Morey’s tweet was “either misinformed or not really educated on the situation.” James also spoke to the fact that the Lakers and Brooklyn Nets were in China at the time of the tweet by Morey supporting the Hong Kong protestors. He noted that there could have been punitive ramifications against the teams by China while there. In response, protesters in Hong Kong burned LeBron James jerseys for his comments.
Former NBA player Shaquille O’Neal was the biggest voice in support of Morey speaking out about the issue citing that “Daryl Morey was right.” On the kickoff show to celebrate opening night of the NBA, O’Neal did not mince words.
“We as American people do a lot of business in China. They know and understand our values and we understand their values. One of our best values here in America is free speech,” O’Neal added, “We’re allowed to say what we want to say and we are allowed to speak up about injustices and that’s just how it goes. And if people don’t understand that, that’s something they have to deal with.”
Jason can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.