NBA commissioner says league will support freedom of speech
It comes after China’s CCTV is shunning NBA games after the Houston Rockets general manager tweeted on Hong Kong.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver has said the league is not apologising for Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s since-deleted tweet showing support for anti-government protesters in Hong Kong.
It comes after China’s state broadcaster cancelled plans to show a pair of pre-season games in that country later this week.
Mr Silver, speaking at a news conference in Tokyo before a pre-season 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 Mr Morey’s tweet and comments that followed — but insisted that Morey has the right to freedom of expression.
— 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, as general manager of the Houston Rockets, enjoys that right as one of our employees,” Mr 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.”
CCTV said it would not show the games between the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets, who will play on Thursday in Shanghai and Saturday in Shenzhen.
“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 understand there are consequences from his freedom of speech and we will have to live with those consequences NBA commissioner Adam Silver
The broadcaster is also reviewing all its cooperation and exchanges involving the NBA, said the statement posted to CCTV Sports’ official social media account.
Mr 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,” Mr 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.”
Mr 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,” Mr Silver said.
This rift between China and the NBA started late last week when Mr 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 Mr Morey does not speak for the Rockets, and Mr Morey returned to Twitter on Monday in an effort to clarify his meaning.
But 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 US dollar 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.
Meanwhile, 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 (CBA), which has said it is suspending its relationship with the Rockets as part of the response to Mr Morey’s tweet.
The CBA also cancelled plans to have the G League affiliates from Houston and Dallas play pre-season games in China later this month.
“I’m hoping that together Yao Ming and I can find an accommodation,” Mr Silver said. “But he is extremely hot at the moment, and I understand it.”
Mr Silver also released a statement prior to his news conference, saying “those who question our motivation” should know that the NBA’s stance is about more than business.
Many US politicians have called for the league to take action — some even suggesting the games in China should be cancelled by the NBA.
“We are not apologising for Daryl exercising his freedom of expression,” Mr 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.”