N.B.A.’s Warriors Disavow Part-Owner’s Uyghur Comments
The N.B.A.’s Golden State Warriors on Monday distanced themselves from a partial stakeholder in the team after he said “nobody cares about what’s happening to the Uyghurs,” the predominantly Muslim minority that has faced widespread repression in China’s western Xinjiang region.
Chamath Palihapitiya, a billionaire venture capitalist who owns a small stake in the Warriors, made the comments on an episode of his podcast “All-In” that was released on Saturday. During the podcast, Mr. Palihapitiya’s co-host Jason Calacanis, a tech entrepreneur, praised President Biden’s China policies, including his administration’s support of the Uyghurs, but noted that the policies hadn’t helped him in the polls.
Mr. Palihapitiya replied: “Nobody cares about what’s happening to the Uyghurs, OK. You bring it up because you really care, and I think it’s nice that you care — the rest of us don’t care.”
Later in the podcast, Mr. Palihapitiya, the founder and chief executive of the venture capital firm Social Capital and a former executive at AOL and Facebook, called concern about human rights abuses in other countries “a luxury belief.” He also said that Americans shouldn’t express opinions about the violations “until we actually clean up our own house.”
On Monday, the Warriors minimized Mr. Palihapitiya’s involvement with the team.
“As a limited investor who has no day-to-day operating functions with the Warriors, Mr. Palihapitiya does not speak on behalf of our franchise, and his views certainly don’t reflect those of our organization,” the team said in a statement.
In recent years, China has corralled as many as a million Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities into internment camps and prisons, part of what Chinese authorities say is an effort to tamp down on extremism. The sweeping crackdown has faced a growing chorus of international criticism; last year the State Department declared that the Chinese government was committing genocide and crimes against humanity through its use of the camps and forced sterilization.
Mr. Palihapitiya’s comments could be the latest chapter in what has become a fraught relationship between the N.B.A. and China, where the league hopes to preserve its access to a lucrative basketball audience. In 2019, a team executive’s support for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong prompted a backlash from China in which Chinese sponsors cut ties with the league and games were no longer televised on state media channels. The league later estimated that it lost hundreds of millions of dollars.
On Monday, Mr. Palihapitiya, 45, who was born in Sri Lanka, moved to Canada when he was a child and now lives in California, said in a statement posted to Twitter that after re-listening to the podcast, “I recognize that I come across as lacking empathy.”
“As a refugee, my family fled a country with its own set of human rights issues so this is something that is very much a part of my lived experience,” he said. “To be clear, my belief is that human rights matter, whether in China, the United States or elsewhere. Full stop.”
Nevertheless, his original comments were condemned by several public figures who have spoken out against China’s human rights abuses in the Xinjiang region.
Enes Kanter Freedom, a Boston Celtics player whose pro-Tibet posts caused the team’s games to be pulled from China in October, said on Twitter that “when genocides happen, it is people like this that let it happen.”
“When @NBA says we stand for justice, don’t forget there are those who sell their soul for money & business,” he said.
Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, a Republican who has often criticized the N.B.A. for its approach to China, tied the league to Mr. Palihapitiya’s comments.
“ALL that matters to them is more $$ from CCP so NBA millionaires & billionaires can get even richer,” he said, referring to the Chinese Communist Party.
The discussion of human rights took up the largest portion of the 85-minute podcast episode. After Mr. Palihapitiya said that he did not care about the Uyghurs, David Sacks, a co-host, suggested that people cared about the Uyghurs when they heard about what was happening in Xinjiang, but that the issue was not top of mind for them.
Mr. Palihapitiya then dug in.
“I care about the fact that our economy could turn on a dime if China invades Taiwan; I care about that,” he said. “I care about climate change. I care about America’s crippling, decrepit health care infrastructure. But if you’re asking me, do I care about a segment of a class of people in another country? Not until we can take care of ourselves will I prioritize them over us.”
He continued: “And I think a lot of people believe that. And I’m sorry if that’s a hard truth to hear, but every time I say that I care about the Uyghurs I’m really just lying if I don’t really care. And so I’d rather not lie to you and tell you the truth — it’s not a priority for me.”
Mr. Calacanis said it was “a sad state of affairs when human rights as a concept globally falls beneath tactical and strategic issues that we have to have.” Mr. Palihapitiya countered that it was a “luxury belief.”
“The reason I think it’s a luxury belief is we don’t do enough domestically to actually express that view in real, tangible ways,” he said. “So until we actually clean up our own house, the idea that we step outside of our borders with us sort of morally virtue signaling about somebody else’s human rights track record is deplorable.”
The N.B.A. is heavily invested in not attracting the kind of messy blowback it received in 2019, when Daryl Morey, then the general manager of the Houston Rockets, tweeted in support of Hong Kong protesters. China removed N.B.A. games from state media channels, with games returning to air a year later.
LeBron James, perhaps the league’s biggest star, faced widespread backlash when he appeared to side with China, saying Mr. Morey “wasn’t educated on the situation at hand” in Hong Kong.