BEIJING – Chinese state broadcaster CCTV announced Tuesday it will no longer air two NBA preseason games set to be played in the country.
In a statement, CCTV indicated the decision was prompted by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s remarks in Japan following a tweet by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey last week that supported anti-government demonstrations in Hong Kong.
The broadcaster is also reviewing all its cooperation and exchanges involving the NBA, said the statement posted to CCTV Sports’ official social media account.
“We’re strongly dissatisfied and oppose Adam Silver’s claim to support Morey’s right to freedom of expression,” CCTV said. “We believe that any remarks that challenge national sovereignty and social stability are not within the scope of freedom of speech.”
Silver said the league will simply protect NBA employees’ right to free speech, regardless of the consequences. Silver also said the NBA has been in touch with Houston Rockets great and Chinese Basketball Association President Yao Ming, with the commissioner saying the Basketball Hall of Famer “is extremely upset.”
“I think it’s unfortunate,” Silver said. “But if that’s the consequences of us adhering to our values, we still feel it’s important.”
Silver wants to meet with Chinese officials when he gets to Shanghai on Wednesday, saying he wants Morey’s tweet and the NBA’s comments that followed in context.
“But I’m a realist as well,” Silver said. “And I recognize that this issue may not die down so quickly.”
Before his news conference in Tokyo, Silver released a statement Tuesday saying the league “will not put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees and team owners say or will not say on these issues.”
“We have seen how basketball can be an important form of people-to-people exchange that deepens ties between the United States and China,” Silver said. “At the same time, we recognize that our two countries have different political systems and beliefs. And like many global brands, we bring our business to places with different political systems around the world.”
Silver also said he hopes basketball can continue be something that unifies the countries. It’s not a new stance for Silver; he’s referenced how basketball now can be similar to the phenomenon known as “pingpong diplomacy” — when table tennis players from the U.S. and China played in the early 1970s and essentially began a major mending of relations between the two countries.
“It is inevitable that people around the world — including from America and China — will have different viewpoints over different issues,” Silver said. “It is not the role of the NBA to adjudicate those differences. However, the NBA will not put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees and team owners say or will not say on these issues. We simply could not operate that way.”
Silver said in an interview with Kyodo News on Monday that the NBA supports Morey.
Morey’s tweet has provoked a wave of censure from Chinese companies, including a major sports merchandise retailer and news site that have halted its partnerships with the Rockets.
A schedule of CCTV programming on its website shows two NBA preseason games between the Brooklyn Nets and the Los Angeles Lakers — one in Shenzhen and another in Shanghai — were no longer slated for broadcast. An NBA Cares event in Shanghai with the Nets was canceled Tuesday, though the Nets participated in other events as scheduled. The Lakers were arriving there Tuesday.
“How can it be possible to carry out exchanges and cooperation with China without knowing China’s public opinion?” Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Geng Shuang said at a press briefing Tuesday. “NBA’s cooperation with China has been going on for quite a long time, so for what should be said and what should be done, they know best.”
The controversy threatened to overshadow the NBA’s return to Japan for the first time since 2003, with the Rockets scheduled to face the reigning league champion Raptors in two games at Saitama Arena this week.
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