ESPN: Human Rights Concerns Reported at NBA Academies in China

League partners are accused of abusing young players and failing to provide schooling

A detailed view of the NBA logo painted on the wooden floor boards of the court
A detailed view of the NBA logo painted on the wooden floor boards of the court.
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images
By Evan Bleier / July 30, 2020 2:58 pm

An ESPN investigation, that was launched after Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s tweet in support of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong led to huge questions about the NBA’s relationship with China, has uncovered reports of abuse at some of the league’s Chinese basketball academies.

ESPN reports American coaches at three training academies operating out of sports facilities run by the Chinese government complained to NBA officials that “their Chinese partners were physically abusing young players and failing to provide schooling.”

One American coach who worked for the NBA in China described the academy program, which was launched in 2016 to try to develop local players in a market that is worth billions to the NBA, as “a sweat camp for athletes.”

One of the academies in the program was in Xinjiang, a police state in western China where Uighur Muslims are held in barbed-wire camps, separated from their families and forced to work in state-run factories, an appalling situation John Oliver addressed in a recent episode of Last Week Tonight. 

American coaches who worked at the academy in Xinjiang were unable to obtain housing as well as harassed, surveilled and detained, with one ex-NBA employee going to so far as to compare the region to “World War II Germany.”

The academy in Xinjiang is now closed, but NBA deputy commissioner and chief operating officer Mark Tatum, who oversees international operations, would not divulge to ESPN if human rights played a factor in the closure.

“We were somewhat humbled,” Tatum said. “One of the lessons that we’ve learned here is that we do need to have more direct oversight and the ability to make staffing changes when appropriate.”

Tatums added that the NBA is “reevaluating” and “considering other opportunities” for the Chinese academy program.

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