The fallout in China over the tweet by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey in support of Hong Kong protestors and NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s response to the controversy continues to grow, with preseason events in the country being canceled and local partners cutting ties with the NBA in droves.
Already, NBA Cares events involving the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday and the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday – both in Shanghai – have been cancelled, with media sessions on Wednesday for both teams having been cancelled as well.
Preseason Games On, For Now
At the moment, the first of two preseason games in China between the two teams is still scheduled on Thursday, and Silver has told players from both teams that the league intends to play the games. However, there is an air of uncertainty over the status of those contests considering the firestorm that has erupted over the last few days.
The controversy began last Friday, when Morey released a since-deleted tweet which included a meme that said “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong.” While Rockets ownership made it clear that Morey wasn’t speaking for the team, the Chinese Basketball Association said it was suspending all cooperation with the team, and state-run sports network CCTV 5 said that it would stop airing Rockets games on television.
The NBA then released a statement on Monday that satisfied nobody in China or either side of the political aisle in the United States, essentially saying that it was “regrettable” that Morey’s viewer had offended many people in China, but that the league “support[s] individuals educating themselves and sharing their views on matters important to them.”
Chinese Blast Silver’s Defense of Free Speech
On Tuesday, Silver made a statement which – while still trying hard not to offend the league’s Chinese interests – came out more clearly in favor of the right to free speech.
“I think as a values-based organization that I want to make it clear…that Daryl Morey is supported in terms of his ability to exercise his freedom of expression,” Silver said at a press conference in Tokyo. “I understand there are consequences from his freedom of speech, and we will have to live with those consequences.”
That statement triggered an immediate and harsh response from CCTV, which said it would halt the broadcasts of the preseason games being held in China and review its relationship with the NBA.
“We express our strong dissatisfaction and opposition to Silver’s stated support of Morey’s right to free speech,” a CCTV statement read. “We believe any remarks that challenge national sovereignty and social stability do not belong to the category of free speech.”
Since that time, 11 Chinese businesses that are listed as official partners of the NBA have either ended or suspended their agreements with the league, including Anta Sports, Xiaoyin Technology, China Mengniu Dairy, EHi Car Rental, WuZun, Master Kong, Migo Video and others. Social media giant Tencent has also said it will not offering streaming video of the preseason games.
The protests began as a fight against a proposed extradition law that would have allowed suspects living in Hong Kong to be sent to mainland China to face trial, but have since grown to include many other issues related to the tensions under the current political framework that allows Hong Kong to enjoy significant autonomy while still being a part of China. Chinese officials have framed the issue as one of national sovereignty, suggesting that the protestors are a separatist movement.