Sports

NBA players may be 'protecting their brand' by staying silent on China controversy, says former All-Star Jamal Mashburn

Key Points
  • NBA players understand the economic consequences of speaking out on political issues, former All-Star Jamal Mashburn tells CNBC.
  • "They don't want to hurt their brand. They're being very careful what they say and how they position themselves," he says.
VIDEO10:1410:14
Former NBA all-star Jamal Mashburn on NBA-Hong Kong protest fallout

NBA players may be protecting their brand by choosing to stay silent about the league's controversy with China, former All-Star Jamal Mashburn told CNBC on Thursday.

The basketball players understand the economic consequences of speaking out on political issues, Mashburn said in an interview with "Fast Money." "They don't want to hurt their brand. They're being very careful what they say and how they position themselves."

The NBA controversy began after Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey sent a now-deleted tweet over the weekend in support of the anti-government protests in Hong Kong, sparking a backlash from Chinese state media.

The NBA could now lose billions as Chinese partners cut or suspend ties with the league.

CNBC reported earlier Thursday that NBA players' unusual quietness on China may stem from the private advice they are getting from sports agents to tread lightly or avoid discussing the issue entirely.

Mashburn, a former All-Star who retired in 2006, shared similar remarks, speaking on players thinking about life after they leave the basketball court for good.

"They really understand there's a really huge market in China for basketball fans," Mashburn said.

He continued: "At the end of the day, you're going to have to go through China, India and emerging markets in also Africa as well."

Mashburn said players could eventually speak out once they process the political issue a bit or get more direction from Adam Silver, the commissioner of the NBA.

Mashburn has built a sizable business portfolio, with stakes in more than 100 restaurants and car dealerships across the country, according to the Dallas Morning News.

On Thursday Mashburn announced he is becoming an advisor to the board of Revolution Global, a Chicago-based cannabis company, joining a growing list of former professional athletes who have aligned with the burgeoning industry.

— CNBC's Kevin Stankiewicz contributed to this report.

Next Article
Key Points
  • The NBA stands to lose billions of dollars in revenue despite mea culpas from Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey and Commissioner Adam Silver.
  • All of the NBA's partners in China have ended or suspended their relationships with the league.
  • Although the NBA says it won't censor team executives or players from speaking out, the swift and angry response from China has everyone on edge.