NBA Top Shot Bans User ‘FreeHongKong’

The user was banned with little explanation from the site’s support team after attempting to cash out their earnings.

Jan 12, 2022 at 7:40 p.m. UTC
Updated Jan 13, 2022 at 7:36 p.m. UTC

Dapper Labs’ popular NBA Top Shot non-fungible token (NFT) marketplace froze the account of a user whose handle is a reference to the professional basketball league’s fraught history with China.

After submitting a photo of their passport in an attempt to cash out the account’s balance, a user with the name “FreeHongKong” was banned by Dapper’s support team for “providing false or misleading information during the verification process,” according to a Dec. 30 email seen by CoinDesk.

“This activity breaches one or both of the Top Shot Terms of Use and/or the Dapper Service Terms of Use,” the rest of the email read. “As a result, we have decided to terminate your account with us, and permanently suspend your ability to access that account.”

CoinDesk was in touch with a Dapper Labs spokesperson on Wednesday morning but the firm did not provide a comment by press time. Hours later, FreeHongKong told CoinDesk their identity check had been verified though the account was still locked.

The user, who revealed his real name to CoinDesk, said their username is a reference to the National Basketball Association (NBA) and its controversial history over Hong Kong-related activism, dating back to a 2019 tweet by one of the league’s general managers, Daryl Morey.

The tweet expressed support for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters. NBA officials attempted to strike a diplomatic tone in an effort to maintain Chinese viewership, and Morey, whose job managing the Houston Rockets was reportedly in jeopardy, later deleted the tweet and apologized. (An NBA spokesperson denied Morey was compelled to do so.) The episode upset many fans and activists who felt freedom of speech was being stifled.

Not your keys, not your Moments

The user remains in an ongoing battle to reclaim their account, but Dapper Labs hasn’t paused the sales of the account’s collectibles.

In the days following FreeHongKong’s ban, the user received a message that one of the NFT “Moments” they had listed for sale had been purchased, though they were still unable to access the account.

While the reasoning behind the ban remains unconfirmed and could be unrelated to the username entirely, the ability for closed platforms like NBA Top Shot to ban users seems to undermine the value proposition of digital ownership. What good are NFTs if their native platforms can restrict access at any moment?

The extent to which companies like Dapper Labs can be pressured by the corporate interests of its business partners remains unclear, but freedom from this type of censorship, which has long proliferated in the Web 2 era, remains at the heart of the vision many have for Web 3.

As mainstream users rush in, NFTs have become a lightning rod for censorship controversy. Leading NFT marketplace OpenSea faced blowback in November for censoring a political cartoonist, whose artwork was also pulled from the popular marketplace Rarible. Censorship resistance has long been a core tenet of Bitcoin and Ethereum developers.

Being a crypto middleman remains a lucrative business, however. OpenSea was valued at $13.3 billion in a recent funding round. Dapper Labs snagged a $7.6 billion valuation in its latest raise. Coinbase went public last April and currently boasts a $51 billion market cap.

UPDATE (Jan. 13, 17:30 UTC): Seven hours after this article was published, a Dapper Labs spokesperson said: "The user's account was deactivated after their ID was mistakenly flagged; having nothing to do with their username. After the user raised their concerns, our team investigated the matter, apologized to the user, and took action to resolve the issue and reinstate the account." FreeHongKong confirmed to CoinDesk their access was restored.

CORRECTION (Jan. 13, 17:30 UTC): An earlier version of this article said the NBA compelled Daryl Morey to delete and apologize for his tweet. A spokesperson for the league later denied this. The passage has been updated to include his denial and additional details of the episode.

UPDATE (Jan. 13, 18:15 UTC): Corrects spelling of Morey's first name and adds more context.

UPDATE (Jan. 13, 19:36 UTC): Adds link to 2019 statement from NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.

DISCLOSURE

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Eli is a news reporter for CoinDesk. He owns BTC, ETH and SOL.