Rockets' general manager's Hong Kong comments anger China

Darnell Taylor
October 8, 2019

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said Monday that his organization backs embattled Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey's right to speak his mind on the Hong Kong protest issue, without endorsing what he said.

Daryl Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets, is facing backlash in China after tweeting support for the protests in Hong Kong.

Head coach Mike D'Antoni told reporters in Tokyo that he "doesn't feel comfortable" commenting on Morey's tweet, which featured an image with the message "Fight for Freedom".

China's consulate in Houston also issued a statement saying it "made stern representations to the Rockets and requested them to clarify, to immediately correct any mistakes, and to eliminate any negative influences".

Chinese sponsors pulled their money from the [Rockets], Chinese broadcast partners said they wouldn't air Rockets games and the Chinese Basketball Association suspended its ties with one of the NBA's best teams.

But the furore showed no sign of dying down, with Chinese state broadcaster CCTV saying it was "strongly opposed" to Morey's "improper remarks" and would no longer air Rockets games. He is now the president of the Chinese Basketball Association and has not played in the NBA since 2011, but the Rockets have remained one of China's favorite NBA teams.

Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the Global Times, a tabloid run by the People's Daily, the Communist Party's flagship newspaper, laid out the Rockets' dilemma in a tweet: "Daryl Morey has the right to express his values, and Chinese fans of the Houston Rockets have the right to abandon this team", he wrote.

Another said: "We Chinese basketball fans call on either Morey to apologize or the Rockets to fire Morey".

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Rockets' owner Tilman Fertitta then stepped in to put distance between the team and Morey's tweet. The team owner rushed to disavow Mr. Morey's support for democracy, tweeting that Mr. Morey "does NOT speak for the @HoustonRockets". According to The Washington Post, some users began responding to his tweet with "NMSL", an abbreviation used on Chinese social media to mean "your mother is dead".

"What I am supporting is his freedom of political expression in this situation", he said.

What's going to be interesting. the Lakers are supposed to play the Brooklyn Nets in Shanghai later this week. "I was merely voicing one thought, based on one interpretation, of one complicated event", Morey tweeted, adding he had now considered other perspectives.

James Harden has spoken out about the controversy, too. Former Houston Rockets center Yao Ming is the chairman of the CBA. Prior to All-Star Weekend in 2018, he said he was proud of the league's stars for how they use their platform to discuss issues personal to them.

Politicians criticizing the league included several senators, house representatives and presidential candidates, including both US senators from Texas.

- The NBA has had a presence in China since 1992 when it opened its first office in Hong Kong.

US lawmakers said the National Basketball Association response was shameful and showed how China was using its economic power to censor speech by Americans in the United States. Tsai also claimed, "1.4 billion Chinese citizens stand united when it comes to the territorial integrity of China and the country's sovereignty over her homeland". "We apologize. You know, we love China". "We have already stopped our cooperation with the Houston Rockets, and continue to urge them to give a clear answer on this matter".

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