Chinese E-Commerce Sites, Stores Reportedly Remove Houston Rockets Merch

Chinese e-commerce sites and brick-and-mortar shops are reportedly removing Houston Rockets merchandise as the NBA-China controversy continues to heat up.

In the latest development, social e-commerce platform Pinduoduo, sports e-tailer JD.com and Alibaba’s Taobao were among the sites that appeared to have pulled Rockets merchandise. Reuters also reports that Houston Rockets apparel has been removed from Nike stores in major Chinese cities including Shanghai and Beijing.

Pro-Democracy protests have been erupting in Hong Kong for about four months. They were spawned as pushback to a bill that would have allowed extradition of Hong Kong residents to mainland China. Hongkongers critical of the proposed measure said residents of the former British colony “would be exposed to China’s deeply flawed justice system, and it would lead to further erosion of the city’s judicial independence,” the BBC explained. Once in mainland China, critics said, those extradited “would be subject to arbitrary detention, unfair trial and torture under China’s judicial system,” according to the British broadcast service.

The unrest has since expanded to include debates concerning free speech and Chinese government censorship.

The NBA was drawn into the conflict when Rockets general manager Daryl Morey took to Twitter on Friday to voice support for the Hong Kong’s protests against Chinese rule, writing in a now-deleted post: “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.”

NBA commissioner Adam Silver issued a statement Oct. 8 saying the NBA would not “put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees and team owners say or will not say on these issues.”

“[W]e recognize that our two countries [China and the U.S.] have different political systems and beliefs,” the statement read. “It is inevitable that people around the world — including from America and China — will have different viewpoints over different issues.  It is not the role of the NBA to adjudicate those differences.”

American lawmakers on both sides of the aisle condemned the NBA’s response to this issue, which they said kowtowed to Chinese leadership.

Meanwhile, Nike has been drawn into the NBA-China conflict as the exclusive maker of the NBA’s uniforms and a purveyor of licensed apparel.

While the Swoosh is an American company, China represents a big part of its business. Greater China, which includes mainland China, Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan, has driven double-digit revenue growth for the brand for 21 consecutive quarters, including 27% growth last quarter. Analysts say concerns about the impact of the NBA-China scuffle on Nike’s bottom line are overblown for now.

“Based on what we know, I do not see much danger to Western brands’s sales,” said Matt Powell, senior sports industry adviser at The NPD Group. “But if the situation gets worse, they could be pulled into the fight and see sales impacted.”

FN has reached out to Nike, JD.com and Alibaba for comment.

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