A clash between the People’s Republic of China and the NBA over a tweet made by Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey has reached unprecedented heights.
The Houston Rockets general manager later took the post down following the backlash.
Morey made a public statement on his Twitter account on Sunday.
1/ I did not intend my tweet to cause any offense to Rockets fans and friends of mine in China. I was merely voicing one thought, based on one interpretation, of one complicated event. I have had a lot of opportunity since that tweet to hear and consider other perspectives.
— Daryl Morey (@dmorey) October 7, 2019
2/ I have always appreciated the significant support our Chinese fans and sponsors have provided and I would hope that those who are upset will know that offending or misunderstanding them was not my intention. My tweets are my own and in no way represent the Rockets or the NBA.
— Daryl Morey (@dmorey) October 7, 2019
Following Morey’s tweet, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver clarified the league’s stance on the issue, saying they will not censor their players’ or team executives’ views.
“It is inevitable that people around the world — including from America and China — will have different viewpoints over different issues. It is not the role of the NBA to adjudicate those differences,” Silver said in a statement, according to The Washington Post.
Adam Silver says he wants to be clear that “We are not apologizing for Daryl exercising his freedom of expression,” but that he does regret “that so many people are upset, including millions and millions of our fans.” pic.twitter.com/7R1JCanlbS
— NBA Buckets (@NBA_Buckets) October 8, 2019
“However, 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,” Silver continued.
Houston Rockets star James Harden apologized for Morey’s tweet by saying, “We apologize. We love China.”
However, on Wednesday, he expressed his support for Silver’s freedom of speech, Shanghaiist noted.
“We all have freedom of speech, that is the world we live in,” Harden said. “Everyone should (say) how they feel and their thought process, be able to speak it. Obviously some people are going to feel some type of ways, others are going to agree. That is just the world we live in. I am here for Adam Silver.”
NBA signage is coming down in Shanghai. pic.twitter.com/M9CUGBAcaZ
— Bill Oram (@billoram) October 9, 2019
Morey’s and Silver’s comments have caused a ripple effect in both countries. In China, the Shanghai Sports Federation reportedly canceled a fan event on Wednesday that would benefit the Special Olympics.
Going on now: the big signage for the NBA Lakers Nets game in Shanghai is being taken down. Game hasn’t been played yet btw pic.twitter.com/dTkMeZpQgs
— Howard Chen 陈定豪 (@TheHoChen) October 9, 2019
While Thursday’s preseason game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets is still set to happen, the game will reportedly not be advertised, promoted or broadcast in China.
A similar fan event with the Nets was also canceled on Tuesday by the Shanghai Education Bureau.
— Rachel Cheung (@rachel_cheung1) October 9, 2019
In the U.S., a couple waving the signs “Free HK” and “Free Hong Kong” was removed from a 76ers and Guangzhou Lions game in Philadelphia on Wednesday, according to AFP.
The couple was reportedly removed for disruption and not for the content of their message.
https://t.co/4JKcMBWoNc A pair of fans holding “Free Hong Kong” signs were booted from a Philadelphia 76ers game against Chinese squad Guangzhou Loong Lions Tuesday night via /u/—0__0— pic.twitter.com/eD0JHwJJno
— pics (@picsreddit) October 9, 2019
Many American senators also voiced their views on the matter and called the NBA out for apologizing to China.
No one should implement a gag rule on Americans speaking out for freedom.
I stand with the people of Hong Kong in their pursuit of democratic rights.
I stand with Americans who want to voice their support for the people of Hong Kong.
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) October 7, 2019
Since when did we need the Communist Party of China’s approval to have an opinion? It’s a sad day when Americans can’t come out in support of freedom & democracy without fear of retaliation. Hey @NBA: In America, we put free speech ahead of contracts. https://t.co/g4YpLmBfiY
— Tim Scott (@SenatorTimScott) October 7, 2019
China is using its economic power to silence critics—even those in the U.S.
The United States must lead with our values and speak out for pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong, and not allow American citizens to be bullied by an authoritarian government. https://t.co/87U4jgsAAp
— Julián Castro (@JulianCastro) October 7, 2019
We’re better than this; human rights shouldn’t be for sale & the NBA shouldn’t be assisting Chinese communist censorship.
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) October 7, 2019
.@dmorey is right & @NBA is wrong: we ought to support brave Hong Kongers struggling for freedom, not their Chinese communist oppressors. @NBA, don’t be the capitalists who will sell the rope used to hang you.
— Tom Cotton (@TomCottonAR) October 7, 2019
I thought the @NBA was proud to be the “wokest professional sports league”?
I guess that only applies to speaking out on American politics & social issues. https://t.co/iS7uhqIAfA
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) October 7, 2019
Donald Trump also mocked the NBA coaches for being quiet on the China and NBA controversy, Business Insider reported.
Here’s Trump mocking Steve Kerr pic.twitter.com/5uP67tBNxB
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) October 9, 2019
Meanwhile, Joe Tsai, the owner of Brooklyn Nets, has spoken up and described the matter as “a third-rail issue.”
My open letter to all fans https://t.co/W9N609g074
— Joe Tsai (@joetsai1999) October 7, 2019
In his open letter, the 55-year-old entrepreneur and co-founder of Alibaba Group, explains, “Supporting a separatist movement in a Chinese territory is one of those third-rail issues, not only for the Chinese government, but also for all citizens in China.”
Tsai went on to recount China being attacked by the combined forces of the British and French armies during the two Opium Wars from 1839 to 1842 and from 1856 to 1860.
Following the Opium Wars, China also saw an uprising between the years 1899 and 1901, which became known as the Boxer Rebellion, after Chinese peasants saw an increase of foreign influence in the country.
“In response, the Eight Nations Alliance – comprised of Japan, Russia, Britain, France, United States, Germany, Italy and Austria-Hungary – dispatched their forces to occupy Chinese territories in the name of humanitarian intervention,” Tsai wrote. “The foreign forces marched into the Chinese capital Peking (now called Beijing), defeated the peasant rebels and proceeded to loot and pillage the capital city.”
He also cited the bloody 1937 Japanese Imperial Army invasion of Beijing, Shanghai and Nanjing.
“When the topic of any separatist movement comes up, Chinese people feel a strong sense of shame and anger because of this history of foreign occupation,” Tsai said.
“By now I hope you can begin to understand why the Daryl Morey tweet is so damaging to the relationship with our fans in China,” Tsai continued in his open letter. “I don’t know Daryl personally. I am sure he’s a fine NBA general manager, and I will take at face value his subsequent apology that he was not as well informed as he should have been. But the hurt that this incident has caused will take a long time to repair.”
“I hope to help the League to move on from this incident,” he said in his closing remark. “I will continue to be an outspoken NBA Governor on issues that are important to China.”