Although Chinese internet giant Tencent streamed the NBA’s return from a four-month coronavirus shutdown, the world’s most popular basketball competition remained inaccessible to China’s TV audiences.
CCTV suspended all broadcasts of NBA matches in October after Daryl Morey, a Houston Rockets executive, tweeted in support of Hong Kong pro-democracy protests, unleashing a firestorm of criticism in China.
The NBA commands a huge following in China - its biggest and most lucrative market outside of the US - and the subsequent fall-out has cost the league more than $300 million in revenue.
After NBA executives defended Morey’s right to freedom of expression, numerous Chinese business partners and celebrities cut ties with the league, games in China were cancelled and the season was pulled from the airwaves.
CCTV - which holds exclusive TV rights for the league in China - posted a statement in May reiterating it had severed ties with the NBA, in response to online rumours that the games may be broadcast again.
“On issues concerning China’s sovereignty, CCTV Sports’ attitude is solemn, clear and consistent with no room whatsoever for ambiguity or manoeuvre,” CCTV wrote.
As the league tried to contain the fallout, US politicians also slammed the league for trying to appease the Chinese government.
In May, the NBA named Michael Ma - the son of CCTV Sports executive Ma Guoli - as CEO of NBA China, as speculation swirled that his appointment could help warm ties with the state broadcaster.
However, the nationalist tabloid Global Times wrote earlier this month that “it remains unlikely that the games will return to Chinese platforms if the issues between the NBA and the Chinese public are not solved”.
It emerged earlier this week that the NBA last year ended its association with a training centre in China’s western Xinjiang region, where Beijing faces growing international condemnation over its treatment of minorities.
An ESPN report this week alleged that young players at the NBA’s China academies were physically abused and left without schooling, and that the NBA was “re-evaluating” the programme.