Only One ESPN TV Show Discussed ESPN’s Bombshell NBA China Story Thursday

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On Wednesday, ESPN reporters Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada dropped a bombshell investigative story about the NBA academies in China, which are seeking to find the next Yao Ming. One camp was closed in Xinjiang amidst human rights abuses in the region and physical abuse of kids at the camp. One former NBA employee compared the atmosphere in Xinjiang, a police state, to Nazi Germany. Regarding child abuse, the story wrote about one instance at a camp in China: “One former coach described watching a Chinese coach fire a ball into a young player’s face at point-blank range and then ‘”kick him in the gut.'”

The ESPN machine often uses major stories broken by their newsgathering operation as a jumping off point for conversation on television throughout the day. I watched ESPN television all day on Thursday to see how they would handle the story. It was not discussed on Get Up, First Take, SportsCenter, The Jump, Jalen & Jacoby, Around the Horn, or Pardon the Interruption.

Discussion on ESPN TV

The only TV show that tackled it was Highly Questionable, which spent a full segment on it:

Le Batard said he was “proud of ESPN” for covering this story, believing that the media has not covered the NBA and other American corporations tolerating human rights abuses in China as part of capitalist expansion. He said that as the son of Communist exiles all these relationships make him uneasy. “The way that the NBA has handled it has seemed particularly weak, even with LeBron James having what I believe to be his worst public moment as an athlete because he took the wrong side talking about Daryl Morey and free speech,” he said.

“These are complicated issues,” said Pablo Torre. “These are things involving names like Uighur — the Muslim minorities — that are hard to pronounce and spell. This is a far off land. I understand all of this. But the clarity in this story is worth celebrating and acknowledging and discussing. Because, what’s happening in northwest China is a series of human rights abuses and atrocities. You have these kids in these camps who are being physically abused — child abuse — within the basketball context, with the NBA logo on all of this. That’s worrisome. You then add the fact that, yes, as many as a million Uighurs are in concentration camps, where there are forced sterilizations, forced abortions, and on down the line in terms of horrifying facts.”

“It’s especially insane, and it’s insane for this reason — I love the NBA. Basketball’s my favorite sport. But they didn’t need this,” Torre continued. “They didn’t need to be in northwest China. They didn’t need to be in China at all. What they did, though, was want it, because there are giant dollar signs all over that part of the globe. The NBA, like so many corporations in America, sees the world as a Risk board. As territories to plant a flag in and conquer and profit off of. Except, in this case, they didn’t do the homework — they outsourced it. To the government of China.”

Previous Episodes

Outkick readers have been familiar with the story of the NBA in China, as site founder Clay Travis, and writer Bobby Burack have been crushing the NBA, commissioner Adam Silver, and LeBron James about it for months — since Daryl Morey supported Hong Kong protestors. They argue that is that it is supremely hypocritical for the NBA and its players to be so gung-ho about social justice in America but turn a blind eye towards genocidal atrocities elsewhere when it’s financially expedient for them.

Senator Josh Hawley and Senator Marsha Blackburn have been pressing the league about it — when Senator Hawley wrote a letter to the NBA and cc’ed the media asking if social justice slogans worn on the back of jerseys in the return to play would be permissible if they said “Free Hong Kong”. This letter garnered much more national attention when ESPN NBA reporter Adrian Wojnarowski responded “Fuck you” from his iPhone and was suspended for two weeks.

ESPN Should Have Covered this Story More on TV

Le Batard and Torre were right to say that this story was excellent and merits discussion, which is why it was disappointing that the rest of ESPN’s television lineup didn’t cover it at all (it was covered elsewhere on radio when Sarah Spain interviewed Mark Fainaru-Wada).

I’m sensitive to the facts that ESPN viewers don’t really want this type of coverage in their sports escape, and that Thursday was unique in the sense that it featured the return of the NBA games which of course they were going to talk about wall to wall.

Clay Travis is an on-air personality on FS1; I didn’t track their lineup Thursday and don’t know if they talked about it or not, but they didn’t originate the story — and news and journalism are less a part of the network’s identity. ESPN does deserve a lot of institutional credit for reporting this story out and releasing it on the eve of said NBA return. To not just report out that story but do it on that day required editorial backbone.

I’m not saying ESPN should’ve dropped everything and breathlessly covered the NBA and China all day like they would about, like, a Patriots bombshell. However, there are a lot of places in their lineup where mentioning it would’ve been appropriate. Get Up and SportsCenter could have interviewed one of the Fainaru brothers or even narrated a quick summary that pushed viewers to read the full story online. A discussion about it on PTI would have been substantive, and also very meaningful as it is typically ESPN’s highest-rated show. Around the Horn could also have handled it well. Both would’ve needed a good amount of time to handle the nuances the right way.

First Take would be a good spot for it in theory because it’s a platform where conversation topics have more length and latitude than almost anywhere else not just on ESPN but all of television. However, to put it nicely, Stephen A. Smith did not shine in that NBA/China discussion previously — he sounded a lot like LeBron James when discussing Daryl Morey — so the risk/reward of covering that story there probably favored punting for ESPN.

That it wasn’t discussed on ESPN’s NBA show, The Jump, is wild to me. Rachel Nichols, like Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser, has a journalism background at the Washington Post. She deserves credit for the time she grilled Mark Cuban, probably the most famous NBA owner, for abuse of women by others in the Mavericks’ organization. Even on the busy day where the NBA was returning, this NBA China story should have been something that she covered.

The bottom line is that brothers Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada deserve a ton of credit for reporting out a bombshell story about the NBA and China, and it would have been nice to see their work rewarded with more coverage on ESPN’s television apparatus.





Written by Ryan Glasspiegel

Ryan Glasspiegel grew up in Connecticut, graduated from University of Wisconsin-Madison, and lives in Chicago. Before OutKick, he wrote for Sports Illustrated and The Big Lead. He enjoys expensive bourbon and cheap beer.


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  1. Has anyone checked in to see if the BLM riots stop during NBA games?

    Maybe we have a non-law-enforcement solution to the RIots (I mean protests). Play more NBA games.

    If they don’t stop rioting to watch NBA games, is it effecting ratings?

    Maybe they are all watching ESPN+ while burning federal courthouses in Seattle?

  2. “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” —-Lord Acton

    Credit to ESPN reporters Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada for shedding light on the child abuse (with the imprimatur of the NBA logo), surveillance and detention of US citizens, and mass-scale human rights abuses occurring in China’s Xinjiang province. Their story is a chilling account of how the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and its ruling party, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), uses violence as its primary means to control Chinese society and abrogate basic human rights.

    It is no secret that the PRC dreams of supplanting the US as the world’s dominant nation; however, the US is still the world’s No. 1 economic and military power. But the PRC is already on top of the leader board in one notable aspect: It is the most murderous regime in the history of the world. The PRC/CCP murdered approximately 76 Million human beings in the 20th Century. That makes the PRC/CCP almost 4 times more lethal than the Nazis, who killed approximately 20 Million people. (See,

    Of course, the evil Nazi thrown from power when they were defeated by the Allies in 1945. By contrast, the PRC/CCP government that grabbed power in 1949 still maintains its authoritarian grip on the Chinese people today. In 2020, by unleashing the Corona Virus on an unsuspecting world, the current 2nd generation of mass-murderous CCP leadership has killed over 670,000 human beings, including over 150,000 US citizens (and many thousands of Black-Americans). The PRC is also the primary source of illicit fentanyl, which has killed over 100K US citizens during the last few years through drug overdoses.

    The wonderful game of basketball was invented by the great Dr. James Naismith, a Canadian-American physician, educator, sports coach, and Christian chaplain. Among other accomplishments, he founded the University of Kansas basketball program and is also credited with designing the first football helmet. Although Dr. Naismith would no doubt be gratified to know that basketball has spread to the far-away lands of Xinjiang province, one can only presume that he would be mortified a story about the sport he invented would prominently feature reports of child abuse and ethnic concentration camps.

    This is not a complicated issue: It is the binary choice between Democracy & Freedom vs. Socialism/Communism & Slavery. Perhaps it is time for the NBA to wake up from its woke slumber and get on the Real Right Side of History.

  3. One account said the Chinese were harvesting organs from the Uighurs in the camps. But the NBA didn’t notice; they were too busy vilifying American police for using pepper spray and tear gas.

  4. As ESPN is the carrier of NBA games, they could put their money where Catherine woke moths are and not show games to actually protest the NBAs involvement in this. But we know they, like the rest of the woke crowd, won’t. And instead tell us Karpernick is to be worshipped as the NBA cares only about human rights.

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