In Xinjiang, the N.B.A. “didn’t have the authority or the ability to take direct action against any of these local coaches,” Tatum said.
The three government-operated camps in China were already operating before the N.B.A. partnered with them to great fanfare in 2016. They were meant to help develop young Chinese players for professional basketball, in hopes of grooming the next Yao Ming, the former Houston Rockets star who became China’s most celebrated basketball celebrity. To find the next Yao, the N.B.A. was to bring elite coaching to the camp. (ESPN, a league broadcast partner, owns a stake in N.B.A. China, the entity that oversees the league’s operations in the country.)
“Nothing is more important than to grow the game of basketball here in China,” Silver said at the time. “We’re thankful for the terrific reception we’ve had in China. It’s very important that we give back as well. One of our means of giving back is to help develop elite players here.”
Nowhere has that growth been more apparent than in China, where the N.B.A. has more fans than it does in the United States. But the N.B.A. and the Chinese government have been on the outs since the fall, when a social media post by Daryl Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets, appeared to support pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong — just as the N.B.A. was going to play preseason games in China.
The Chinese government was furious, setting off an unusual dispute that intertwined professional sports, international politics and business. According to Silver, the Chinese government wanted Morey fired, a request the league denied, and N.B.A. games were taken off the air on China Central Television, the state-run television network. Silver has said that the N.B.A. will likely lose hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue as a result of the rift.
Silver has maintained an interest in repairing relations with China.
“We’ve continued a dialogue with the Chinese, with our business partners there. In certain cases, with certain government officials,” Silver said recently in an interview with Time magazine. “And you know, we’re just going to keep at it. We’ve had a long history in China. And certainly this is a bump in the road in our relations.”
Chris Buckley contributed reporting.