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Warriors disavow co-owner’s Uyghur commentary

The Golden State Warriors distanced themselves on Monday from minority owner Chamath Palihapitiya, who declared on a recent podcast appearance: “Nobody cares about what’s happening to the Uyghurs.”

Palihapitiya, a venture capitalist and former Facebook and AOL executive, made the statement while speaking on the “All In” technology podcast that he co-hosts. The comments gained social media traction on Monday, including this post from Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter Freedom:

“Nobody cares about what’s happening to the Uyghurs,” Palihapitiya said while addressing co-host Jason Calacanis. “You bring it up because you really care. And I think it’s nice that you care. The rest of us don’t care. 

“I’m just telling you a very hard, ugly truth. Of all the things that I care about, yes, it is below my line.”

Calacanis brought up the Uyghurs in a broader discussion about American presidential politics and the nation’s role in international affairs. Palihapitiya went on to argue that concern over international human rights issues is a “luxury belief” and that the United States shouldn’t “step outside of our borders” until “we clean up our own house” and address the plight of “black and brown men” domestically.

“I care about the fact that our economy could turn on a dime if China invades Taiwan,” Palihapitiya continued. “I care about climate change. I care about America’s crippling and decrepit health-care infrastructure.

“But if you’re asking me, ‘do I care about a segment of a class of people in another country?’ Not until we can take care of ourselves will I prioritize them over us.”

The Warriors released a statement Monday afternoon downplaying Palihapitiya’s role with the organization and distancing the franchise from his views.

“As a limited investor who has no day-to-day operating functions with the Warriors, Mr. Palihapitiya does not speak on behalf of our franchise, and his views certainly don’t reflect those of our organization,” the statement reads

Chamath Palihapitiya. (Brian Ach/Getty Images for TechCrunch)

Palihapitiya responds

After the Warriors published their statement, Palihapitiya released his own while referencing his family’s Sri Lankan heritage.

“In re-listening to this week’s podcast, I recognize that I come across as lacking empathy,” the statement reads. “As a refugee, my family fled a country with its own set of human rights issues so this is something that is very much part of my lived experience. To be clear, my belief is that human rights matter, whether in China, the United States, or elsewhere. Full stop.

What is Palihapitiya’s role with Warriors?

Palihapitiya wrote on Twitter in 2021 that majority owner Joe Lacob offered him a 10% stake in the team for $25 million that he accepted prior to Lacob’s purchase of the franchise in 2010. Lacob’s group spent $450 million to buy the Warriors, meaning that Palihapitiya got his stake at a discount if he is indeed a 10% stakeholder. 

Who are the Uyghurs?

The Chinese government is accused of committing genocide against the Uyghurs, a Muslim ethnic group of around 12 million people native to Northwest China. Their plight is receiving renewed international attention with the Beijing Olympics slated to start in February. The United States announced a diplomatic boycott of the Games in December. U.S. athletes will still attend and compete in the Games.

Among the alleged atrocities inflicted by the Chinese government include mass incarceration of Uyghurs, separating children from families, forcing slave labor and mass sterilization and conducting reeducation camps. In 2018 the United Nations cited credible reports that China was holding up to a million Uyghurs and Muslims in detention centers.

NBA’s rocky relationship with China

China is a significant market for the NBA that accounted for 10% of the league’s global revenue as of 2019. The relationship between China and the league has been strained in recent years after then-Houston Rockets general manager tweeted his support for protestors in Hong Kong calling for freedom from the Chinese government in 2019. 

China took retaliatory measures including removing the NBA’s games from state-controlled airwaves in 2020. NBA commissioner Adam Silver estimated in 2020 that China’s response to Morey’s tweet would ultimately cost the league hundreds of millions of dollars. 

The NBA has since returned to Chinese airwaves with Silver describing the league’s relationship with China last April as “complicated.”

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