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.