‘We Were Basically Working for the Chinese Government:’ Former NBA Employees Detail Abuses of Students at Chinese Academies

The National Basketball Association received multiple employee complaints that instructors at NBA academies in China were physically abusing pupils, and that students were not receiving proper schooling, ESPN reported on Wednesday.

The NBA has established academies in China, including in the province of Xinjiang where China is currently attempting the cultural genocide of Uighur citizens, to train aspiring players. The students at some NBA academies were allegedly denied schooling and focused almost exclusively on basketball. Former employees who spoke on condition of anonymity highlighted the prevalence of corporal punishment, which led at least two coaches to request a transfer from their assigned facilities.

“Imagine you have a kid who’s 13, 14 years old, and you’ve got a grown coach who is 40 years old hitting your kid,” one former coach told ESPN. “We’re part of that. The NBA is part of that.”

Bruce Palmer, a former technical director at a Chinese school that partnered with the NBA, said he had to repeatedly tell Chinese instructors not to strike their students. Palmer said the school’s principal told him that hitting the students has “been proven to be effective as a teaching tool.”

The NBA’s arrangement placed operations of the academies under Chinese authority. “We were basically working for the Chinese government,” another former coach said.

NBA Commissioner “Adam Silver ought to come to Capitol Hill and explain this situation,” Senator Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) wrote on Twitter on Wednesday.

The academy in Xinjiang operated until at least Spring 2019. By that time, China’s mass detention of Uighurs in concentration camps was well under way. NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum said the league eventually chose to close down its Xinjiang academy because of “many factors.”

“My job, our job is not to take a position on every single human rights violation, and I’m not an expert in every human rights situation or violation,” Tatum said. “I’ll tell you what the NBA stands for: The values of the NBA are about respect, are about inclusion, are about diversity.”

The NBA came under heavy criticism in October from U.S. elected officials, when the league apologized to China after Houston Rockets manager Daryl Morey wrote “Free Hong-Kong” on Twitter. Twitter is itself not available in China. China subsequently canceled coverage of an NBA pre-season exhibition game, and Rockets merchandise was removed from stores throughout the country.

The league has since been attempting to repair its relations with the country, which represents its largest market outside the U.S. The NBA has estimated it would lose about $400 million in revenue because of the Hong Kong tweet.

“We come to China with a certain set of core American values and principles,” Commissioner Adam Silver told Time in June of this year. “They have a different view of how things have been done, how things should be done. And hopefully, we can find mutual respect for each other.”

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