Basketball / NBA

NBA head acknowledges growing crisis over team official's Hong Kong tweet

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

The escalating heated reaction to Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey’s since-deleted tweet supporting Hong Kong protesters over China over the weekend brought China’s state-controlled media into the geopolitical row.

Morey on Friday tweeted an image that featured these words: “Fight For Freedom, Stand With Hong Kong.” He later apologized on Twitter after being rebuked by team owner Tilman Fertitta.

China Central Television on Tuesday announced on social media that it would not broadcast upcoming NBA exhibition games featuring the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets in Shanghai and Shenzhen, China, on Thursday and Saturday, respectively.

This announcement was made at the same time that the league was gearing up for the NBA Japan Games featuring the defending champion Houston Rockets and Toronto Raptors on Tuesday and Thursday. The preseason games at Saitama Super Arena are the NBA’s first exhibition or regular-season contests since Oct. 30 and Nov. 1, 2003, when the Seattle SuperSonics, who became the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2008, and Los Angeles Clippers squared off at the same venue.

“We believe that any comments that challenge national sovereignty and social stability are not within the scope of freedom of speech,” CCTV wrote on its social media account.

“To this end, CCTV’s Sports Channel has decided to immediately suspend plans to broadcast the NBA preseason (China Games) and will immediately investigate all cooperation and communication with the NBA.”

NBA commissioner Adam Silver spoke about the ongoing public relations crisis for his league on Tuesday. He also stated that he plans to attend the Lakers-Nets game on Thursday night and meet with Chinese basketball officials to try to come to common ground on the complexity of issues and viewpoints related to China and Hong Kong.

The hope, he said, is “to see if we can find mutual respect for each others’ political systems.”

“As a realist, I realize this issue might not die down so quickly,” Silver said.

Silver elaborated on why he publicly released a statement in support of Morey’s right to have freedom of speech.

“I issued a statement because I thought there was a lot of misunderstanding about our position … why there might have been some confusion,” Silver said, noting that the translated statement into Chinese didn’t carry an identical message.

He continued: “The long-held values of the NBA are to support freedom of expression.

“As a league, we are not willing to compromise those values, and again, I am sympathetic to our interests here and to our partners who are upset. I don’t think it’s inconsistent on one hand to be sympathetic to them and to stand with our principles.”

Silver said tolerance for different viewpoints and cultures and the importance of listening to differing views are important.

“These values are deeply rooted in the DNA of the NBA,” he said, while citing freedom of speech. “We will have to live with those consequences.”

He reiterated that league will protect its employees’ right to freedom of speech.

“We are not apologizing for Morey exercising his freedom of expression,” Silver told the news conference, though that he regrets that “millions of people are upset.”

Silver previously addressed the issue in an interview with Kyodo News on Monday night.

There was a big backlash from Chinese companies with ties to the NBA. A day later, he spoke at a scheduled 6 p.m. news conference at Saitama Super Arena. It actually started at about 6:20 p.m., with Silver addressing the media less than an hour before tipoff of the Raptors’ first preseason games. The Rockets opened their preseason with a contest against the Clippers on Friday in Honolulu.

“There is no doubt, the economic impact is already clear,” Silver was quoted as saying by Kyodo. “There have already been fairly dramatic consequences from that tweet, and I have read some of the media suggesting that we are not supporting Daryl Morey, but in fact we are.

“I think that as a value-based organization that I want to make it clear … that Daryl Morey is supported in terms of his ability to exercise his freedom of expression.”

For the NBA, there’s already a significant economic impact being felt by the reaction in China to Morey’s tweet. For instance, Li-Ning Co, which makes sportswear, has cut ties with the Rockets, according to published reports. Tencent Holding, which streams NBA games, has removed the Rockets from their app. According to an NBA.com report, that streaming revenue is worth $1.5 billion over the next five years.

An estimated 500 million people in China watch the NBA on Tencent. Shanghai Pudong Development Bank also announced it would suspend ties with the Rockets, one of several prominent companies to say so.

Also Tuesday, organizers called off an NBA Cares event in Shanghai, where the Nets were scheduled to visit the New World Experimental Primary School. The charity arm of the NBA had planned an event to commemorate the refurbishment of a basketball court in the hometown of former Rockets star Yao Ming, China’s first NBA star. Yao is now the president of the Chinese Basketball Association. Yao, a former Shanghai Sharks player, was the No. 1 pick in the 2002 NBA Draft. He has been inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts.

As for the Chinese legend, Silver acknowledged that Yao is “extremely hot” at the moment.

Asked about upcoming NBA games in Japan in the near future, Silver responded by saying it’s likely that the NBA will return for the 2020-21 season.

Silver noted that this is “a historic time for Japan” in the NBA, citing the fact that Washington Wizards rookie Rui Hachimura became the first Japanese to be selected in the first round of the 2019 NBA Draft in June.

The commissioner called it “a turning point for basketball in Japan.”

“He is a fantastic young man,” Silver said of Hachimura. “I don’t want to put too much pressure on him. … But here’s an entire country watching him with huge expectations.”

In less than a year, NBA players will showcase their talents in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, a catalyst for the game, the commissioner said.

“The Olympics act as a (big) stimulus when they come to the market,” he said of the 2020 Games, and how it will work to grow hoops here.

The wide-ranging questions at the news conference also involved the B. League, which recently began its fourth season in Japan.

“We’d love to see a B. League team compete in the preseason,” Silver confirmed. “This is something we’ll look into doing going forward.”