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Houston Rockets, NBA Face Backlash In China After GM Tweets About Hong Kong Protests

Houston Rockets, NBA Face Backlash In China After GM Tweets About Hong Kong Protests

A now-deleted tweet sent Sunday by Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey that voiced support for Hong Kong protesters has highlighted the delicate nature of the NBA's business ties to mainland China. 

Morey’s deleted tweet featured an image with the words: “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.”

The Fallout 

Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta said Morey’s opinion does not reflect the views of the organization.

The NBA said in a statement that the league recognized his statement was deeply offensive to fans in China.

The Chinese-language version of the NBA’s statement was much harsher on Morey, calling the tweet inappropriate and offensive, according to The New York Post.

The differences in the translated version forced NBA spokesman Mike Bass on Monday to issue a statement on the statement.

“There should be no discrepancy on the statement issued last night,” he said. “We have seen various interpretations of the translation of the Mandarin version, but our statement in English is the league’s official statement.”

The Rockets are the second-most popular team in China after drafting Hall of Famer Yao Ming, who was born in Shanghai, to its team in 2002. 

The Chinese Basketball Association said it will suspend all cooperation with the Rockets. Ming is the president of the CBA.

Tencent Holding/ADR (OTC: TCHEY) Sports  said it will suspend live streaming for Houston Rockets games, as well as news about the team.

Tencent is the NBA’s exclusive digital partner in China, with nearly 500 million viewers last season.

Chinese footwear brand Li-Ning Company and Shanghai Pudong Development Bank also said they would suspend cooperation with the Rockets, according to CNN.

Although the league and team stand to lose a lot if by alienating their Chinese fan base, the NBA prides itself on being the most progressive league, and the situation is a test of those values. 

Public Responses

Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang

“The Chinese government banning the Rockets is a terrible move.”

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas

“We’re better than this; human rights shouldn’t be for sale & the NBA shouldn’t be assisting Chinese communist censorship.”

Houston Rockets guard James Harden

"We apologize. You know, we love China. We love playing there," Harden told ESPN. "For both of us individually, we go there once or twice a year. They show us the most important love.”

NPD Group's Matt Powell 

“Guess we’ll see how woke the NBA really is …”

Stocktwits founder Howard Lindzon

“China is upset about a tweet from an NBA GM, even though Twitter is banned in China.”

U.S. Rep. Tom Malinowski of New Jersey 

“And the #NBA, which (correctly) has no problem with players/employees criticizing our gov’t, is now apologizing for criticizing the Chinese gov’t. This is shameful and cannot stand.”

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Photo by Studio Incendo via Wikimedia


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