Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr faced mockery on social media for his ongoing silence about the controversial relationship between the NBA and China.
On Wednesday, ESPN ran a bombshell report that alleged the young participants in the NBA's training academies in China were physically beaten by Chinese instructors and were not provided proper schooling, despite commissioner Adam Silver's previous commitment that education would be "central" to the program.
"A former league employee compared the atmosphere when he worked in Xinjiang to 'World War II Germany,'" ESPN reported.
However, with the NBA season officially underway, Kerr drew his ire on Friday towards critics who oppose kneeling during the national anthem.
"With NBA games now in full force, the inevitable race baiting 'kneeling is a sign of disrespect!' tweets are coming," Kerr wrote. "Our message is clear: We love our country. And we also believe that this nation can and must do better to eliminate racism and bigotry. That is why we kneel."
In light of ESPN's reporting, critics largely went after the coach for not commenting on the NBA-China controversy.
"Steve, I speak for all Americans when I say we’re just relieved China has given you permission to once again speak out on important social and human rights abuses," conservative commentator Stephen Miller quipped.
"Any word on ESPN's expose of your training program in Xinjiang or nah?" Noam Blum, Tablet Magazine associate editor, asked.
"Cool. You ready to speak out against China yet...or nah?" National Review contributor Pradheep J. Shanker similarly tweeted.
"Absolute state of social justice in the NBA is teams kneeling for the national anthem because bigotry while the league was running training camps in China where Chinese coaches were abusing Uighur Muslims," Daily Caller's Greg Price reacted.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas., rejected the kneeling protest but also challenged Kerr and the rest of the league to put their high salaries into good use.
"Here’s a better idea: stand for the anthem, to honor our Nation & the heroes who died for our freedom. And then support school choice by donating 10% of your salaries for scholarships for low-income children to attend excellent schools," Cruz wrote.
ESPN's report detailed how the NBA training academies in China appeared to be largely under the control of the Chinese government, with one coach who worked for the program calling it "a sweat camp for athletes."
"We were basically working for the Chinese government," one former coach told ESPN.
Multiple NBA employees filed complaints about how they witnessed Chinese coaches "strike teenage players" and the lack of education provided to the young participants.
Mark Tatum, the NBA deputy commissioner and chief operating officer, told ESPN that the league is "reevaluating" and "considering other opportunities" for the program.
One former coach told ESPN he watched a Chinese coach "fire a ball into a young player's face at point-blank range and then 'kick him in the gut.'"
According to ESPN, NBA officials asked current and former employees not to speak to the sports network about the exposé, with one email from a public relations official reading, "Please don't mention that you have been advised by the NBA not to respond."
"You can't have it both ways," one former employee told ESPN. "You can't be over here in February promoting Black History Month and be over in China, where they're in reeducation camps, and all the people that you're partnering with are hitting kids."
Over the past year, the NBA's intense relationship with China has been scrutinized after the league's players and coaches have largely refrained from criticizing the country's human rights violations and expressing support for Hong Kong.
Earlier this month, criticism of the NBA's ties to China was renewed after it was discovered that customers were prohibited from ordering custom gear that read "Free Hong Kong" on its online store.
The store's operator, Fanatics, suggested the phrase was "inadvertently prohibited" and the ban was lifted. Days later though, the NBA pulled all custom gear from its online store.
ESPN's prominent NBA reporter Adrian Wojnarowski also raised eyebrows when he sent Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., a profane response to the lawmaker's criticism of the league's decision of “pre-approved, social justice slogans” while “censoring support” for law enforcement and criticism of the Chinese Communist Party.
Wojnarowski issued an apology and was temporarily suspended by the network.