Tweet creates rift between the NBA and China

By Joe Clark | Staff Writer

China Central Television (CCTV) has decided NBA games held in the country will no longer be televised or streamed — at least for the time being.

It’s a decision that stems from a recent tweet by Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey. His post sparked political controversy when he voiced his support for the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

Morey tweeted out an image last Thursday along with a caption that read “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong.”

Rockets owner Lorenzo Fertitta quickly moved to denounce Morey’s tweet, and he was joined by the Chinese government, the Chinese Basketball Association and multiple Chinese business corporations.

The Rockets have long been one of the most popular NBA teams in China — mainly because Chinese basketball star Yao Ming played for them from 2002-2011.

After Morey’s tweet, which came while the Rockets embarked on an overseas exhibition tour in Asia, several companies in China suspended business with the Rockets.

The NBA released a statement on Sunday shortly after the news was announced in recognition of Morey’s tweet. The statement acknowledged that the tweet “deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China, which is regrettable.”

The statement by the NBA caused outrage from U.S. politicians, who accused the NBA of pandering to China for their own financial interests.

“Basketball fans and the American people more broadly should have absolutely no doubt about what is happening here: The NBA wants money, and the Communist Party of China is asking them to deny the most basic of human rights,” Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said in a statement Monday. “In response, the NBA issued a statement saying money is the most important thing.”

NBA commissioner Adam Silver responded to the situation by speaking to Kyodo News, a Japanese news outlet.

“I have read some of the media suggesting that we are not supporting Daryl Morey, but in fact we have,” Silver told Kyodo News. “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’s statements were the reason given by CCTV for its decision to indefinitely halt the broadcast of preseason games.

“We express our strong dissatisfaction and opposition to Silver’s stated support of Morey’s right to free speech. We believe any remarks that challenge national sovereignty and social stability do not belong to the category of free speech,” CCTV said. “We will also immediately examine all other cooperation and exchanges with the NBA.”

Tencent, the NBA’s exclusive digital partner in China, is also suspending live streaming for the remaining two NBA preseason games in China.

The Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers play Thursday in Shanghai and Saturday in Shenzhen, so the decision by both CCTV and Tencent will have an immediate effect on the NBA.

Silver held a press conference in Japan — where the Rockets are playing preseason games.

He told reporters, “It’s not something we expected to happen,” before adding, “But if that’s the consequence of us adhering to our values, we still feel it’s critically important to adhere to those values.”

Silver also said he hopes to sit down with Chinese officials on Wednesday ahead of the Nets-Lakers game to discuss the matter.

Silver also told reporters, “But I’m a realist as well, and I recognize that this issue may not die down so quickly.”