The NBA is getting criticized on Sunday night following their handling of a situation where the general manager of the Houston Rockets came out in support of the pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong. Kowtowing to pressure from China, the NBA has distanced itself and denounced the statements by Daryl Morey.
From his own personal Twitter account, Morey simply tweeted a graphic that read: “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.” He then deleted the tweet that supported the pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong who are fighting against the extradition of fugitives to mainland China. There have been numerous violent episodes between protesters and Chinese authorities since March 31, 2019. Things have escalated in recent weeks, where police have shot live rounds at protesters.
Morey’s boss, Houston Rockets owner Tillman Fertitta, wrote that Morey did not speak for the franchise. “Listen….@dmorey does NOT speak for the @HoustonRockets,” Fertitta wrote on Twitter. “Our presence in Tokyo is all about the promotion of the @NBA internationally and we are NOT a political organization.”
Fertitta was ratioed on Twitter with most of the comments siding with Morey and the Hong Kong protesters.
Then the NBA issued a statement on Morey’s tweet, condemning the Rockets GM. NBA executive vice president of communications Mike Bass said:
“We recognize that the views expressed by Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey have deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China, which is regrettable. 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. 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.”
Morey has since issued an apology for his tweet.
“I did not intend my tweet to cause any offense to Rockets fans and friends of mine in China. 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. I have always appreciated the significant support our Chinese fans and sponsors have provided and I would hope that those who are upset will know that offending or misunderstanding them was not my intention. My tweets are my own and in no way represent the Rockets or the NBA.”
But it may be too little too late because Fertitta had already liked at least two tweets advocating for Morey to be fired.
The Chinese Basketball Association and Tencent Sports, which is the NBA’s exclusive digital partner in China, have suspended business relations with the Houston Rockets following Morey’s tweet. China Central Television announced they would stop broadcasting Rockets games.
The Chinese Consulate in Houston even chimed in on the controversy and said: “We are deeply shocked by the erroneous comments on Hong Kong made by Mr. Daryl Morey, general manager of the Houston Rockets. We have lodged representations and expressed strong dissatisfaction with the Houston Rockets, and urged the latter to correct the error and take immediate concrete measures to eliminate the adverse impact.”
Houston has enjoyed a huge following in China thanks to Yao Ming being on their franchise from 2002 until 2011, and are said to be the second-most popular NBA team in China based on online engagement last year.
Many have pointed out that the NBA has had zero apprehension about been political in the past and that maybe their lack of “wokeness” on this subject is because it could cost the association money from the huge market in China. The NBA moved its 2017 All-Star game out of Charlotte because of the HB2 “bathroom bill,” making it the first major U.S. sporting event to be relocated because of political reasons since 1990. Last summer, NBA commissioner Adam Silver said the league was done using the word “owner.”
Sports and social commenters, politicians as well as current NBA player Enes Canter hammered the NBA’s decision to try to punish Morey.