The NBA received complains from its own employees over human rights concerns inside an NBA youth-development program in China, according to a report from ESPN. The investigation by ESPN began after Daryl Morey's tweet expressing support for Hong Kong.
American coaches at three NBA training academies in China told league officials their Chinese partners were physically abusing young players and failing to provide schooling, according to multiple sources. The NBA ran into myriad problems by opening one of the academies in Xinjiang, a police state in western China where more than a million Uighur Muslims are now held in barbed-wire camps.
American coaches were frequently harassed and surveilled in Xinjiang, according to sources.
Mark Tatum, who oversees international operations, said the NBA is "reevaluating" and "considering other opportunities" for the academy program, which operates out of sports facilities run by the Chinese government. Last week, the league acknowledged for the first time it had closed the Xinjiang academy.
Tatum declined to say whether human rights were a factor in closing the academy.
"We were somewhat humbled," Tatum said of the academy project in China. "One of the lessons that we've learned here is that we do need to have more direct oversight and the ability to make staffing changes when appropriate."
The NBA launched the program in 2016 as part of the league's strategy to develop local players in a market that has made NBA China a $5 billion enterprise.
NBA officials asked current and former employees not to speak with ESPN for this story. In an email to one former coach, a public relations official added: "Please don't mention that you have been advised by the NBA not to respond."
One American coach who worked for the NBA in China described the project as "a sweat camp for athletes."
Tatum repeatedly avoided questions from ESPN on whether the widespread human rights abuses in Xinjiang played a role in closing the academy, instead citing "many factors."
"My job, our job is not to take a position on every single human rights violation, and I'm not an expert in every human rights situation or violation," Tatum said. "I'll tell you what the NBA stands for: The values of the NBA are about respect, are about inclusion, are about diversity. That is what we stand for."