The National Basketball Association has been swept into international controversy after a Houston Rockets executive’s tweets in support of the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong sparked a widespread backlash in China.
The team’s general manager, Daryl Morey, took to Twitter on Friday night to post an image with the words “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong,” referencing the ongoing demonstrations in the semiautonomous city, where protesters have taken to the streets to oppose the Chinese government.
The now-deleted tweet came just days ahead of the Rockets’ scheduled appearance in Tokyo for a series of preseason games against the Toronto Raptors. It prompted Chinese businesses to rescind their sponsorship of the franchise as well as lead broadcast partners CCTV 5 and Tencent Sports to refuse to air Rockets games, according to statements on Chinese social media site Weibo. The Chinese Basketball Association, whose chairman is former Rockets player Yao Ming, also cut ties with the team, according to a statement on Weibo.
On Sunday, Morey tweeted to clarify that his opinions were not representative of the Houston Rockets’ or the NBA’s views. “I did not intend my tweet to cause any offense to Rockets fans and friends of mine in China,” he wrote. “I was merely voicing one thought, based on one interpretation, of one complicated event. I have had a lot of opportunity since that tweet to hear and consider other perspectives.”
The league’s relationship with the country remains in jeopardy as top executives and players prepare for preseason games this week in Shanghai and Shenzhen. The NBA also has licensing deals with Chinese retail merchants, including e-commerce giant Alibaba and sportswear manufacturer Li-Ning Company, the latter announcing that it had suspended business ties with the league.
Following Morey’s statement, an NBA spokesperson attempted to mitigate the fallout in a message published on Weibo.
“While Daryl has made it clear that his tweet does not represent the Rockets or the NBA, the values of the league support individuals educating themselves and sharing their views on matters important to them,” chief communications officer Mike Bass wrote. “We have great respect for the history and culture of China and hope that sports and the NBA can be used as a unifying force to bridge cultural divides and bring people together.”
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