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Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

An NBA GM has done a better job of alerting the U.S. to the China threat than any politician.

Why it matters: Millions of Americans appear to be realizing the power and breadth of China's ability to censor and control on a worldwide scale.

  • China has a history of leveraging access to its massive market of 1.5 billion consumers to get foreign companies to bend to its will, squeezing apologies out of multinational retailers and airlines alike.

But something else is happening here: The NBA, after initially backing away from Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey's tweet, is standing its ground — even though there are billions at stake if the league loses its Chinese audience.

  • Commissioner Adam Silver — who plans to visit Shanghai on Wednesday — backed Morey today: "[T]he NBA will not put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees and team owners say or will not say on these issues."
  • Yes, but: Silver has carefully avoided weighing in on the Hong Kong protests, making the issue about freedom of speech. "It is inevitable that people around the world — including from America and China — will have different viewpoints over different issues. It is not the role of the NBA to adjudicate those differences."

China is hitting back: CCTV, the state-run broadcaster, has announced it will no longer air two pre-season games that will take place in China. "We're strongly dissatisfied and oppose Adam Silver's claim to support Morey's right to freedom of expression," CCTV said.

And new issues of China-backed censorship on U.S. shores are gaining attention. 

  • Activision Blizzard — the American gaming company behind World of Warcraft in which Chinese tech giant Tencent has a 4.9% stake — suspended and took prize money from Chung Ng Wai, a Hong Kong-based pro player for making a statement supporting the Hong Kong movement.

The bottom line: "The NBA may be more strongly positioned to push back than other U.S. businesses that have run afoul of the Chinese government," WSJ reports.

  • "It’s the most powerful sports league in the country and plays such an outsize role in local sporting culture that China without the NBA is increasingly unimaginable."

Go deeper... Podcast: The NBA's future is China

Go deeper

Updated 8 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies — Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker

Arizona governor sues Biden administration over COVID funds tied to mandates

A teacher prepares a hallway barrier to help students maintain social distancing at John B. Wright Elementary School in Tucson, Arizona, on Aug. 14, 2020. Photo: Cheney Orr/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) filed a lawsuit Friday against the Biden administration for ordering the state to stop allocating federal COVID relief funds to schools that don't comply with public health recommendations such as masking, the Arizona Republic reports.

Why it matters: The Treasury Department said last week that the state would have to pay back the money if Ducey does not redesignate the $173 million programs to ensure they don't "undermine efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19."

Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers

President Biden speaking from Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Jan. 21. Photo: Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A federal judge in Texas blocked the Biden administration from enforcing its coronavirus vaccine mandate for federal workers on Friday, citing the outcome of last week's Supreme Court ruling that nullified the administration's vaccine-or-test requirement for large employers.

Why it matters: It's a blow to President Biden's efforts to increase the U.S.' vaccination rates, though much of the federal workforce has already been vaccinated against the virus.