The NBA has once again found itself in a China-linked controversy after serial dealmaker Chamath Palihapitiya, a part owner of the Golden State Warriors, dismissed concerns over human rights abuses facing the Uighur minority in China.
“Nobody cares about what’s happening to the Uighurs, OK?” the Sri Lankan-born investor said during an episode of the All-In podcast on Saturday, reacting to a comment from cohost Jason Calacanis about the administration of US President Joe Biden’s “very strong” stance on the issue.
“I’m telling you a very hard, ugly truth, OK? Of all the things that I care about, yes, it is below my line,” Palihapitiya said, as Calacanis reacted with palpable surprise.
He also called human rights a “luxury belief.”
The Warriors said in a statement that Palihapitiya’s views do not reflect those of the team. Palihapitiya later wrote in a statement that upon listening to the interview, “I recognize that I come across as lacking empathy.”
As part of a refugee family, he said “human rights matter” anywhere in the world.
However, as footage of the exchange circulated on social media, Palihapitiya’s comments drew sharp rebuke. Many zeroed in on his role as a minority owner of the Warriors and on the NBA’s already delicate relationship with China.
In 2019, a tweet from then-Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey in support of Hong Kong’s protest movement provoked a huge backlash in China. Since then, teams and players including LeBron James have been closely scrutinized for their stances on China.
More recently, China shut off Boston Celtics games after player Enes Kanter Freedom criticized the country’s human rights record regarding the predominately Muslim Uighurs, as well as Tibet and Hong Kong.
Palihapitiya, 45, whose family fled Sri Lanka for Canada when he was a child, is no stranger to controversy. He has built a large following on social media, particularly among a certain type of retail investor.
He has criticized hedge funds while simultaneously praising Redditors/WallStreetBets’ financial abilities, even as he launched multiple special-purpose acquisition companies that have since seen their shares collapse.
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