Shaquille O’Neal Sides With Houston Rockets GM in NBA-China Dispute

Shaquille O’Neal has waded into the NBA-China controversy.

On TNT’s “The Inside Guys” Tuesday, Shaq and fellow panelists Kenny Smith, Charles Barkley and Ernie Johnson discussed the dispute, which began on Oct. 4 when Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted support of the Hong Kong protests against Chinese disruption of their democratic rights. Hong Kong became a semiautonomous “special administrative region” of China in 1997, after 156 years under British rule.

“Daryl Morey was right,” said Shaq on the sports news program. “Whenever you see something wrong going on anywhere in the world, you should have the right to say, ‘That’s not right’ — and that’s what he did.”

“We as American people, we do a lot of business in China and they know and understand our values, and we understand their values. And one of our best values here in America is free speech. We’re allowed to say what we want to say, and we’re allowed to speak up about injustices,” the former Los Angeles Laker added.

Smith took the same pro-free speech stance as O’Neal, saying: “If we don’t allow Daryl Morey to speak, it would be like saying ‘LeBron, shut up and dribble.'”

O’Neal and Smith’s opinions contrasted with the view of Laker LeBron James, who called Morey “misinformed” when speaking with press on Oct. 14.

“I believe he wasn’t educated on the situation at hand, and he spoke,” James said. He later clarified his statement on Twitter following social media backlash.

“Let me clear up the confusion. I do not believe there was any consideration for the consequences and ramifications of the tweet. I’m not discussing the substance. Others can talk about that,” James tweeted.

While O’Neal disagreed with James, Barkley defended James’ statement, saying, “We don’t get to impress our values on other countries.

The NBA-China dispute has had ramifications going beyond social media complaints. NBA commissioner Adam Silver said at the Time 100 Health summit last week that the fallout has had a “fairly dramatic” financial cost for the league.

The conflict could be bad news as well for Nike, which has an exclusive deal for the NBA’s uniforms. The athleticwear giant is the leading athletics company in China, with a 22.1% marketing share, according to a 2016 Euromonitor report. It has seen double-digit growth in Greater China over the past 21 quarters. However, the Swoosh has not publicly weighed in on the issue.

“A brand needs to spend a lot of time thinking about what their response should be and, at the same time, recognize the legacy of what they’ve had to say about other issues. I think Nike is right to be somewhat circumspect,” Matt Powell, VP and senior industry adviser at The NPD Group, told FN.

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