On Thursday, 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang skewered “the Chinese government” and the NBA over the controversy regarding a tweet from Daryl Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets.
In a statement provided to The Hill, Yang said:
The Chinese government banning NBA games because of a deleted tweet by a franchise employee is ridiculous. The main losers would be the Chinese fans who would find another way to watch the games. The NBA should feel confident in its position and stand up for the free speech rights of its employees.
On October 4, Morey sent out a tweet that featured a pro-Hong Kong graphic, which read: “Fight for freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.”
Morey deleted the tweet, and issued the following statement:
I did not intend my tweet to cause any offense to Rockets fans and friends of mine in China. I was merely voicing one thought, based on one interpretation, of one complicated event. I have had a lot of opportunity since that tweet to hear and consider other perspectives. 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.
The controversy surrounding Morey’s initial tweet has been monumental — multiple Chinese businesses have severed ties with the Houston Rockets. The team’s merchandise in a Beijing NBA store is allegedly being replaced, reports The Wall Street Journal. Nike has also begun pulling Rockets merchandise from their Chinese stores, according to Reuters.
According to SB Nation: “Tencent, a streaming service with a billion-dollar deal to bring NBA games to people in China, announced it would ‘suspend all reports/streaming’ of Rockets games.”
As The Daily Wire’s Amanda Prestigiacomo reported, on Tuesday, fans at an NBA game in Philadelphia had their “Free Hong Kong” signs confiscated, and were later escorted out of the stadium. On Wednesday, “Free Hong Kong” and “Google Uyghurs” signs were also confiscated at an NBA game in Washington D.C.
Following Morey’s tweet, NBA Chief Communications Officer Mike Bass issued a statement, which reads:
We recognize that the views expressed by Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey have deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China, which is regrettable. While Daryl has made it clear that his tweet does not represent the Rockets or the NBA, the values of the league support individuals’ educating themselves and sharing their views on matters important to them. We have great respect for the history and culture of China and hope that sports and the NBA can be used as a unifying force to bridge cultural divides and bring people together.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver also released a lengthy statement in which he notes the “diversity” of “views, backgrounds, ethnicities, genders, and religions” featured in the NBA.
It is inevitable that people around the world – including from America and China – will have different viewpoints over different issues. It is not the role of the NBA to adjudicate those differences. However, the NBA will not put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees and team owners say or will not say on these issues. We simply could not operate that way.
The statement concludes by suggesting that basketball should be “a unifying force” that fosters a focus on common interests, rather than differences.
State-run CCTV in China were not satisfied with Silver’s statement, releasing their own:
#China ups the ante on the @NBA. State TV CCTV to halt all broadcasts of games. Condemns Commissioner Adam Silver’s defense of @NBA statements on @dmorey on #HongKongProtest. CCTV announcement below: pic.twitter.com/GoeKUktSkA
— Eunice Yoon (@onlyyoontv) October 8, 2019
We have noticed that Adam Silver, the commissioner of the NBA, who is participating in an event in Japan, has responded to Houston Rockets general manager Morey’s post of inappropriate Hong Kong-related remarks. We are strongly dissatisfied and we oppose Silver’s claim to support Morey’s right of free expression. We believe that any speech that challenges national sovereignty and social stability is not within the scope of freedom of speech.
To this end, CCTV Sports Channel of the Central Radio and Television Administration has decided to immediately suspend the current broadcast arrangements of the NBA pre-season (China Games) and immediately investigate all cooperation and exchanges involving the NBA.
During a press conference in Tokyo on Thursday, Christina Macfarlane of CNN attempted to ask two Houston Rockets players if they “feel differently” about engaging in political speech in light if the NBA/China firestorm.
“The NBA has always been a league that prides itself on its players and its coaches being able to speak out openly about political and societal affairs. I just wonder after the events of this week and the fallout we’ve seen, whether you both feel differently about speaking out in that way in the future?” Macfarlane asked.
After Macfarlane’s question, a female spokesperson said the players were only taking “basketball questions.” After some back and forth about the relevance of the question, the mic was taken from Macfarlane.
Macfarlane also asked Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni if he had “a message for … [the] Chinese fans who, rightly or wrongly, may have felt let down by the NBA this week?”
D’Antoni replied that “it’s a tough situation,” and that “Adam Silver speaks for the NBA,” and because D’Antoni works for the organization, he goes “with Adam,” who he says will “do the right thing.”
He added: “You can’t answer questions like that because you’re wrong no matter what … I coach basketball. I’m not a diplomat.”
Other politicians besides Yang have entered the fray.
In an October 9 letter, a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE), Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), stated in part:
It is outrageous that the Chinese Communist Party is using its economic power to suppress the speech of Americans inside the United States. It is also outrageous that the NBA has caved to Chinese government demands for contrition. We are deeply concerned that individuals associated with the league may now engage in self-censorship that is inconsistent with American and the league’s stated values – and that this incident will only encourage further intimidation of American companies and persons by the Chinese government.
The lawmakers admonished NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to further state that the organization will “support their right [players, staff, partners, and fans] to express their opinions no matter the economic consequences.” The letter also makes several suggestions regarding the way the NBA should handle Chinese boycotts and business relations going forward.
This is far from the end of this developing controversy, which has engulfed the NBA, been the focus of intense media coverage, and elicited reactions from Republican and Democratic lawmakers — even including a presidential candidate.