A CNN reporter was cut short after asking two NBA players whether China’s ire over their team manager’s tweets in support of Hong Kong has affected them speaking out.
Tension has risen between the NBA and the Chinese communist regime after Houston Rockets manager Daryl Morey’s posted a picture on Twitter showing support for the Hong Kong protests. The since-deleted image read: “Fight for freedom, Stand with Hong Kong.”
NBA China is worth an estimated $4 billion, according to Forbes. The Rockets may lose between $10 million and $25 million in missed business deals as a result of that single tweet.
Both Rockets stars, James Harden and Russell Westbrook, have business interests in China and both apologized to the communist country after Morey’s remarks.
“We apologize. You know, we love China. We love playing there,” Harden said on Monday, sided by Westbrook. “For both of us individually, we go there once or twice a year. They show us the most important love.”
The short interaction occurred on Thursday, Oct. 10, when Harden and Westbrook answered questions at a press conference in Japan where their team is on an annual trip to Asia and was slated to play some pre-season games. Harden and Westbrook were at the stage, taking questions from the assembled press.
Then CNN reporter, Christiana Macfarlane got the mic and asked: “The NBA has always been a league that prides itself on its players and its coaches being able to speak out openly about political and societal affairs,” CNN reported.
She continued, “I just wonder after the events of this week and the fallout we’ve seen, whether you would both feel differently about speaking out that way in future.”
She had barely finished the question when a PR staffer interrupted: “Um, excuse me, we’re talking basketball questions now, alright?”
“It’s a legitimate question,” McFarlane countered.
“It’s not,” the staffer shot back.
“This is an event that’s happened this week, during the NBA,” Macfarlane said.
“It’s already been answered,” the staffer persisted.
“This particular question has not been answered. James?” she said, in a last attempt reaching out to Harden—but Harden and Westbrook zipped it up completely.
At that moment McFarlane, clearly frustrated, surrendered the microphone to the staffer.
After the incident, the NBA apologized in a statement for the rude behavior of the Rockets PR staffer:
“During today’s Houston Rockets media availability, a team representative inappropriately interjected to prevent CNN’s Christina Macfarlane from receiving an answer to her question,” it said. “We’ve apologized to Ms. Macfarlane as this was inconsistent with how the NBA conducts media events.”
Meanwhile, NBA chief Adam Silver issued a statement that the NBA stands by Morey, stating “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.”