The NBA commissioner said on Oct. 8 that he would not censor players or team owners, after the league was hit with a firestorm of criticism over its initial disavowal of a tweet by the Houston Rockets’ manager backing the Hong Kong protests.
Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted a photo on Oct. 4 in support of the protests, then later deleted the tweet and apologized to “fans and sponsors” in China.
The NBA initially tried to distance itself from Morey’s comments, publishing a statement on Oct. 6 where it apologized for the “regrettable” tweet.
But on Tuesday, Commissioner Adam Silver defended Morey for expressing his opinions about the protests in Hong Kong.
“The long-held values of the NBA are to support freedom of expression, and certainly freedoms of expression by the NBA community, and in this case Daryl Morey as the General Manager of the Houston Rockets enjoys that right as one of our employees.”
Also on Tuesday, Chinese state broadcaster China Central Television said it would not broadcast NBA preseason games. This includes a game between the Brooklyn Nets and the LA Lakers scheduled for later this week in Shanghai.
The league has worked for years to cultivate the Chinese market and regularly plays exhibition games there.
NBA’s initial statement angered both sides: The league was criticized by some fans and U.S. politicians for kowtowing to Beijing’s censorship, while Chinese netizens condemned NBA for offending national sensibilities.
“The NBA is supposed to be so woke. I mean, they’re so sensitive to everybody else’s rights. They’re so woke. They’re the most woke of all sports industries in America, and it was humiliating what they did. And I think there are going to be severe ramifications,” former White House strategist Steve Bannon told NTD.
Bannon added that history will judge the NBA harshly.
Censure at Home
U.S. and U.K. officials blasted the NBA for prioritizing its economic interests in China.
“China’s trying to silence speech at U.K. universities, media, and now in U.S. sports,” said Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the UK Foreign Affairs Committee.
“As a lifelong Houston Rockets fan, I was proud to see [Daryl Morey] call out the Chinese Communist Party’s repressive treatment of protestors in Hong Kong,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said on Oct. 6. “Now, in pursuit of big [dollars], the NBA is shamefully retreating.”
Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who recently returned from a trip to Hong Kong and criticized the Hong Kong government for acting as a “pawn” for the Chinese regime, said it was “shameful” to see the NBA “kowtowing to Beijing to protect their bottom line.”
“It’s clear that the NBA is more interested in money than human rights,” he wrote on Twitter.
Scott also released a statement on Oct. 7 requesting a meeting with the NBA commissioner “to discuss the NBA’s involvement in Communist China.”
“Men and women are risking their lives to fight for the same freedom we take advantage of in this country,” he said. “We must all put human rights above profit. And that means standing with Hong Kong.”
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) similarly called the silencing of Morey “unacceptable”: “No one should implement a gag rule on Americans speaking out for freedom,” he said.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) sent a letter to 30 NBA team owners on Oct. 7 calling on the organization to “reverse course” and cancel all exhibition games in China.
“Remember that some things are more important than money. Remember your responsibility … And for an American organization to help the most brutal of regimes silence dissent in pursuit of profit is appalling,” he wrote in the statement.
Epoch Times reporter Eva Fu contributed to this report.