National Basketball Association (NBA) commissioner Adam Silver yesterday said that 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 pre-season games later this week.
Silver, speaking at a news conference in Tokyo before a preseason game between the Rockets and NBA champions the 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 are to play tomorrow 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 (阿里巴巴) Taiwanse-American cofounder Joe Tsai (蔡崇信) now owning the Nets — would have almost certainly 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’ social media account.
Silver is going to Shanghai today and said he hopes to meet with officials and some of the league’s business partners there.
“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.”
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 territory.
Efforts were quickly made to defuse the situation, but the damage was clearly done. At least one Chinese sporting goods company said it was no longer cooperating with the Rockets, NBA streaming partner Tencent Holdings Ltd (騰訊) — which has a US$1.5 billion contract with the league over the next five seasons — said it would not show Rockets games and a sports news Web site in China said it was no longer covering the team.
Further complicating the matter is that China’s best-known basketball player is Hall of Famer Yao Ming (姚明), who spent his NBA career with the Rockets.
Yao is now president of the Chinese Basketball Association, which has said it is suspending its relationship with the Rockets.
Videoland Inc (緯來電視), the NBA’s official broadcast partner in Taiwan, yesterday said that its programming would not be affected, adding that it would arrange more live basketball broadcasts for fans’ enjoyment.
Additional reporting by staff writer
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