In response to questions about its business practices in China, the NBA informed a Congressional committee that it prohibits the use of forced labor in the making of its licensed apparel, while noting that the league doesn't control individual players' contracts with shoe companies.
The NBA also wrote, in a letter sent Tuesday, that it "condemns human rights violations anywhere" and adheres to U.S. State Department guidelines in doing business in China.
The NBA's response was to a letter sent in late September to commissioner Adam Silver by the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, a bipartisan committee whose mandate is to monitor and report on human rights issues in China. In letters to Silver and National Basketball Players Association president CJ McCollum, the committee called on the league and its players to ban the sale and use of shoes made through forced labor.
The Congressional letter cited Chinese companies using cotton from Xinjiang, a region where more than a million Uyghur Muslims are held in barbed-wire camps. Last year, ESPN identified 17 current NBA players who had shoe deals with four Chinese companies accused of being tied to forced labor in Xinjiang. None of the players or their representatives responded to requests for comment.
The NBPA did not respond to requests for comment from ESPN, and it's unclear if the union responded to the letter from Congress.
The Congressional committee had also called on Silver to meet with various groups to "learn about the sad reality of genocide." In its response Tuesday, signed by NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum, the NBA didn't address whether Silver had met with any such groups, but it said it was "mindful of the circumstances in the countries where we operate." The league added, "We recognize that there are individuals and organizations who may, through first-hand experience or otherwise, have different views on matters relating to China."
Tatum also wrote that the NBA does not control what players or league and team personnel can say about China and added that anyone connected to the "NBA family" is free to speak their mind. "Any assertion to the contrary is not accurate," Tatum wrote.
Tensions between the league and the Chinese government first surfaced in 2019 when then-Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted support for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. The Chinese government responded by banning the NBA from state TV for most of three seasons, and a number of Chinese sponsors fled. The sanctions ultimately cost the NBA hundreds of millions of dollars.