Case Study

NBA China: Adam Silver vs. Milton Friedman

Craig Sasse, Anthony Tocco
August 14, 2023
North America
Strategy & General Management, Ethics & Social Justice
13 pages
corporate social responsibility, Ethical decision-making, stakeholder theory
Student Price: 
$4.00 (€3.76)
Average rating: 

Adam Silver faces his first real crisis as commissioner of the National Basketball Association (NBA). Because of a tweet by a team’s executive, the league’s long-standing and lucrative relationship with China was imperiled. The tweet showing support for Hong Kong protestors drew the immediate ire of the Chinese government and nearly all its Chinese business proxies that did business with the NBA. The NBA boasted having nearly 600 million fans in China and the league’s growth depended on continuing to exploit this fertile market. Just a week into the crisis, the NBA had already lost millions of dollars due to Chinese businesses suspending contracts and events. The Chinese demanded that the team executive, Daryl Morey, be fired. Yet, the league could not easily sanction the executive because they had built their reputation and brand around player and employee empowerment, including the right to speak freely on social issues. The league’s players had often been activists on domestic social issues, and this was condoned by the league. In fact, many politicians and fans were critical of the NBA’s seemingly tepid response to China in light of those espoused values. How could Silver thread the needle to satisfy all sides?

Learning Outcomes: 

After reading the case students should be able to:
1. Judge corporate activity and its compliance with current views on corporate social responsibility behavior.
2. Evaluate the efficacy of CSR efforts by companies.
3. Formulate ethical decisions involving stakeholder conflicts