A new report published Tuesday found sports network ESPN has banned their television personalities from discussing Chinese politics this week while talking about China's conflict with the National Basketball Association and Houston Rockets.
Popovich, speaking before his San Antonio Spurs faced the Miami Heat in a preseason game, said he recognized that Silver is in a hard situation following the Chinese dismay over a tweet posted last week by Houston general manager Daryl Morey that showed support for anti-government protesters in Hong Kong.
Early this week, Commissioner Adam Silver, in Tokyo for the Rockets preseason games with the Raptors, defended the league's policy and Morey without supporting his words or exactly apologizing either. What Morey presumably viewed initially as his democratic right to freely express a political opinion rapidly spiralled out of control.
The NBA's business with China amounts to a $4 billion opportunity for the league.
"When it comes to basketball in China, it's just the NBA", said Mark Dreyer, who runs the China Sports Insider website. He said he hopes Chinese officials and fans look at the totality of the impact of the three-decade-plus relationship between the league and their country, and urged them to see his response while acknowledging there are political differences between the countries.
The Chinese message is loud and clear: Your free speech ends at the water's edge.
Yet by the time Manchester City toured China in the summer, Chinese state mouthpiece the Global Times was berating City officials for showing a lack of respect to China and its people.
Leading Chinese teams don't even break one million followers.
While wearing a "Make America Great Again" cap, Rodman says: "Commissioner Adam Silver, I know a thing or two about diplomacy".
But the NBA's business with China has become politically fraught since Daryl Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets, tweeted in support of the protesters. Bluntly put, the league was accused of putting its financial interests ahead of its principles.
This came a day after the Chinese government canceled the Nets' NBA Cares event.
"When you tune into ESPN, we should be, we need to be covering those stories, if there is a connection to sports", he said.
"I live and die with my team", said the post by the 25-year-old, identified only by his surname Wang. China has never look fondly on outsiders commenting on their own political strifes, which is why Morey finds himself in a hard position after doing something he's always been known to do - express his opinion. Then there was the statement from CCTV, the Chinese broadcaster: "We voice our strong dissatisfaction and opposition to Adam Silver offering as an excuse the right to freedom of expression". The NBA put out a statement saying the tweet doesn't represent NBA or the Rockets, which led to an uproar in the US and another statement from the NBA. Every fall, the league sends teams to China for exhibition games. China's success in this case may not be a slam dunk, however: The popularity of the NBA's product and the inadequacy of the substitutes may shift the balance of power.