Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey’s tweet over the weekend supporting protestors in Hong Kong who are pro-democracy is having a profound effect on the NBA. It’s also crippling relationships between the pro basketball league and its high-profile foreign business partners.
“Fight for freedom. Stand with Hong Kong,” Morey wrote in the now-deleted tweet.
One of the business partners to take offense at the tweet was Anta, a China-based brand and sponsor of several NBA stars including Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors. Late yesterday, the company announced it would no longer align itself with the league.
The athletic company said in a statement (translated from Chinese), “In response to the recent comments made by the Houston Rockets and NBA executives, we are as shocked and dissatisfied as the Chinese NBA fans! Anta firmly opposes and resists all acts that harm the interests of the motherland, and we will immediately stop renewing negotiations with NBA companies.”
Anta’s decision, however, did not sit well with fans, who have reacted via social media.
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“Who? Seems like this will hurt the (unknown) company more than the NBA…” wrote user @mercuriobryan.
“So they think voicing support to freedom fighters is ‘wrong.’ my warm regards to people that do not think the US and China have an ideological divide,” noted @beanoriginalist.
“Glad ANTA won’t be representing anymore @NBA players.. I really hate seeing players wear ANTA or Li-Ling. Those garbage companies belong in China on Chinese players. Keep that s**t over there. we don’t wanna see it on our NBA players!!” added user @realLTRAXX.
Following Morey’s tweet, reports broke that Anta rival Li-Ning would suspend its relationship with the team. (Li-Ning works with NBA stars such as CJ McCollum of the Portland Trail Blazers.) That move is also receiving backlash from hoops fans stateside.
“I can’t imagine Li-Ning having a legit chance to sign any major NBA players to a shoe deal going forward unless they’re paying something like 60% more given they’ll in essence be asking their sponsored athletes to become Chinese from a freedom of expression standpoint,” wrote @joahspearman on Twitter.
Although there is no NBA franchise in China, the league’s stature grew tremendously in the late ’90s and 2000s thanks to Yao Ming, a superstar center and foreign ambassador to the game. The baller, ironically enough, suited up exclusively for the Rockets during his career.
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