The NBA came under fire after issuing a statement apologizing to China after the Houston Rockets general manager tweeted and deleted a post backing Hong Kong protesters.
On Friday, Rockets GM Daryl Morey posted an image on Twitter that included a slogan that is often chanted by Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters: “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong.” Morey deleted the tweet shortly after.
“Chinese fans, who see the Hong Kong protesters portrayed as violent rioters in the state-run news media and largely regard them as such, were furious. Sponsors paused their deals with the Rockets, and the country’s main broadcaster said it would remove the team’s games from its schedule,” The New York Times reported.
The NBA issued a statement on Sunday, saying that the league recognizes that Morey’s tweet “deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China, which is regrettable.”
NBA distances itself from Morey’s tweets:
The Rockets are particularly popular in China because Chinese basketball star Yao Ming played in Houston for nine seasons.
Rockets star James Harden also issued an apology to China on Monday.
“We apologize. We love China, we love playing there,” he said. “We go there once or twice a year. They show us the most support and love. We appreciate them as a fan base, and we love everything they’re about, and we appreciate the support that they give us.”
Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta tweeted that Morey “does NOT speak” for the team which is “NOT a political organization.”
Joseph Tsai, the new owner of the Brooklyn Nets and co-founder of Alibaba, slammed the tweet and said it “will take a long time to repair” the damage.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said that the “economic impact” of Morey’s tweet was “already clear” but added that Morey is “supported in terms of his ability to exercise his freedom of expression.”
Lawmakers join in bipartisan slamming of NBA:
There’s not much that unites the GOP and Democrats these days but this did it.
Florida Republican Marco Rubio slammed the NBA for “throwing” Morey “under the bus to please the Communist Chinese Govt.”
“Disgusting,” he wrote. "They allow #China to punish a U.S. citizen for free speech in order to protect NBA’s market access in China. Grotesque."
Fellow Florida Republican Rick Scott tweeted that it was “clear” the NBA “is more interested in money thank human rights.”
"The NBA is kowtowing to Beijing to protect their bottom line and disavowing those with the temerity to #standwithHongKong," he added. "Shameful!"
Democrats ripped the move too.
"No one should implement a gag rule on Americans speaking out for freedom,” wrote Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer.
Democratic presidential candidate Julian Castro wrote that China “is using its economic power to silence critics -- even those in the US.”