NBA Commissioner Adam Silver speaks at a news conference before an NBA preseason basketball game between the Houston Rockets and the Toronto Raptors in Tokyo in Saitama on Tuesday. Photo: AP/Jae C Hong

With China rift ongoing, NBA commissioner says league will support freedom of speech


NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said the league is not apologizing for Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey's since-deleted tweet showing support for anti-government protesters in Hong Kong, even after China's state broadcaster canceled plans to show a pair of preseason games in that country later this week.

Silver, speaking Tuesday at a news conference in Tokyo before a preseason game between the Rockets and NBA champion Toronto Raptors, went as far as to say that he and the league are "apologetic" that so many Chinese officials and fans were upset by Morey's tweet and comments that followed - but insisted that Morey has the right to freedom of expression.

"Daryl Morey, as general manager of the Houston Rockets, enjoys that right as one of our employees," Silver said. "What I also tried to suggest is that I understand there are consequences from his freedom of speech and we will have to live with those consequences."

Among those consequences: CCTV said it would not show the games between the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets, who will play Thursday in Shanghai and Saturday in Shenzhen. Basketball is wildly popular in China and those two teams - largely because of LeBron James starring for the Lakers and Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba's co-founder Joe Tsai now owning the Nets - almost certainly would have been a huge television draw.

"We're strongly dissatisfied and oppose Adam Silver's claim to support Morey's right to freedom of expression," CCTV said in a statement. "We believe that any remarks that challenge national sovereignty and social stability are not within the scope of freedom of speech."

The broadcaster is also reviewing all its cooperation and exchanges involving the NBA, said the statement posted to CCTV Sports' official social media account.

The NBA is not the first major corporation to deal with criticism from China over political differences. Mercedes-Benz, Delta Air Lines, hotel operator Marriott, fashion brand Zara and others also have found themselves in conflicts with China in recent years.

Silver is going to Shanghai on Wednesday and said he hopes to meet with officials and some of the league's business partners there in an effort to find some sort of common ground. He said he hopes Chinese officials and fans look at the totality of the impact of the three-decade-plus relationship between the league and their country, and urged them to see his response while acknowledging there are political differences between the countries.

"I'm sympathetic to our interests here and our partners that are upset," Silver said. "I don't think it's inconsistent on one hand to be sympathetic to them and at the same time stand by our principles."

Silver said the NBA did not expect CCTV to cancel plans to show the Lakers-Nets games. "But if those are the consequences of us adhering to our values, I still feel it's very, very important to adhere to those values," Silver said.

The rift between China and the NBA started late last week when Morey tweeted a now-deleted image that read: "Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong," in reference to months of pro-democracy demonstrations in the semiautonomous Chinese territory that has been mired in escalating violence between protesters and law enforcement.

Efforts were quickly made to defuse the impact; Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta said Morey does not speak for the Rockets, and Morey returned to Twitter on Monday in an effort to clarify his meaning. But damage was clearly done: At least one Chinese sporting goods company said it was no longer cooperating with the Rockets, NBA streaming partner Tencent - which has a $1.5 billion contract with the league over the next five seasons - said it would not show Rockets games and a sports news website in China said it was no longer covering the team.

Further complicating the matter is this: China's best-known basketball player is Hall of Famer Yao Ming, who spent his NBA career with the Rockets. Yao is now the president of the Chinese Basketball Association, which has said it is suspending its relationship with the Rockets as part of the response to Morey's tweet. The CBA also canceled plans to have the G League affiliates from Houston and Dallas play preseason games in China later this month.

"I'm hoping that together Yao Ming and I can find an accommodation," Silver said. "But he is extremely hot at the moment, and I understand it."

A ceremonial NBA Cares event for an educational center in Shanghai with the Nets was canceled Tuesday, though the Nets participated in other events as scheduled. The Lakers were arriving there Tuesday. Silver said NBA Cares would still honor its bigger mission surrounding that event, including providing a gift of new computers.

"How can it be possible to carry out exchanges and cooperation with China without knowing China's public opinion?" Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Geng Shuang said Tuesday. "NBA's cooperation with China has been going on for quite a long time, so for what should be said and what should be done, they know best."

Silver also released a statement before his news conference, saying "those who question our motivation" should know that the NBA's stance is about more than business. Many U.S. lawmakers have called for the league to take action - some even suggesting the games in China should be canceled by the NBA.

"We are not apologizing for Daryl exercising his freedom of expression," Silver said. "I regret - again, having communicated directly with many friends in China - that so many people are upset, including millions and millions of our fans. At the end of the day, we come with basketball as an opportunity to sell dreams, sell hopes ... that we are causing disruption in people's lives and that we are causing disharmony, that's something I regret."

© Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

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Of course the Chinazi are upset. They don't like it when their authority is questioned.

Hopefully though, Winnie the Pooh is huffing and puffing as we speak!

6 ( +6 / -0 )

"We're strongly dissatisfied and oppose Adam Silver's claim to support Morey's right to freedom of expression," CCTV said in a statement. "We believe that any remarks that challenge national sovereignty and social stability are not within the scope of freedom of speech."

I dont know why, but I bust out laughing when I read this comment! Once again China thinking it can control the thoughts and speech of people half a world away!

5 ( +5 / -0 )

How vested is the investment of the NBA in China? Sure China is a huge market but then again if any entity can say "so be it" to China, it would be the NBA.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

"We believe that any remarks that challenge national sovereignty and social stability are not within the scope of freedom of speech."

Here in the USA it is the very essence of our freedom.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

The Chinese have a long memory.

Divisive comments from foreigners will not be tolerated.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

"We believe that any remarks that challenge national sovereignty and social stability are not within the scope of freedom of speech."

Freedom of speech - just watch what you say.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

LeBron the social justice warrior is awfully quiet now. I guess social justice only matters when it does not cost you Chinese endorsements...

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

It's good to see somebody taking the highroad for a change. The NBA might lose financially in the short term, but it'll gain more in the long run.

Way to go commissioner!

2 ( +3 / -1 )

LeBron the social justice warrior is awfully quiet now. I guess social justice only matters when it does not cost you Chinese endorsements...

Bang on. James Harden's apology lol. Virtue signaling hypocrites & frauds, zero credibility.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

You already have the freedom of speech. Now go after the money

0 ( +0 / -0 )

meh communist controlled floutrage. Ignore them, they don't deserve a good game.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Fine. No basketball for you! American athletes, both male and female, are some of the most outspoken people in the world. If you can't stand the heat, the kitchen will be taken away from you.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Stay in your lane, China. Can't control the rest of the world like you do at home. Don't show the games and guess what? The league and the world goes on without you. Swish.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

China is interesting and getting more and more brazen by the day. This isn't going away anytime soon. This is heading towards a Cold War and a very long one at that. Silver should know that the CCP controls everything in China and it wouldn't be long before China played this hand. The CCP tries to weaponize everything without actually resorting to violence - provided, of course, that the CCP thinks it can 'win'. Otherwise, they whine like the little brats that they truly are.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

NBA has long survived without china. It will continue to survive without china. Let the communist dictators cancel as many games as they want; it's the china fans' loss.


4 ( +4 / -0 )

Seems to me Xi is over-reacting.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I take my hat off to China in that it's a brilliant way to dominate foreign policy. You get companies (and countries) addicted to huge money and then threaten to withdraw that money if they don't tow the line on foreign policy. So far it's working. The majority of western companies offer grovelling apologies and tow the CCP party line afraid of losing their access to the market. China has even got countries to withdraw support from Taiwan using this same method. A few years ago, the UK government was unhappy with China in Hong Kong. The Chinese didn't like this so they pressurised British businesses in mainland China. Those businesses went to the government to get them back down and the government did. It's a brilliant tactic and a lot cheaper than an armed conflict. Until the western addiction to Chinese money and cheap labour stops, this will continue to go on. And at the moment, China is winning.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Most fragile thing in existence - the Chinese heart.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

This is the biggest lie of them all... China blocks Twitter, so how can whatever is written upon the platform find its way to the Chinese Mainlanders ? China is trying to impose it's own regime upon the rest of the World through threats of cutting off access to their Market! NBA, FIFA, etc should all turn their backs on China... then lets see what happens! Time to get rid of the CCP.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Great to see the NBA standing up for freedom to criticise China.

Will they also officially criticize and boycott the Chinese for thier oppression and arrests of the HK freedom protesters like they removed the planned 2017 NBA All-Star Game from Charlotte as punishment for the bathroom bill which was designed to protect little girls from potential predator men masquerading as women?

Not expecting it. Hypocrites. Lecturing everyone else about morality.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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