The NBA says it hopes the league can help to unify people and cultural divides while maintaining an openness to a flow of ideas as it weighed in Sunday on the controversy surrounding the Rockets‘ GM after he voiced support of pro-democracy Hong Kong protesters.
“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,” the NBA said in the statement released Sunday night. “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.”
The statement came after China’s official basketball association, headed by Hall of Famer and Rockets great Yao Ming, said earlier in the day that it would suspend cooperation with the team. Tencent, a major media partner with ESPN and the NBA in China with a streaming deal that is worth $1.5 billion total over the next five years, and Chinese state television then said they would not be showing Rockets games.
The Chinese Basketball Association said on its Twitter-like Weibo account that Morey had made “improper remarks regarding Hong Kong” to which it expressed its “strong opposition.”
Morey’s now-deleted tweet from Friday read: “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.”
“We have great respect for the history and culture of China,” the NBA said in its statement, “and hope that sports and the NBA can be used as a unifying force to bridge cultural divides and bring people together.”
In a statement tweeted Sunday, Morey attempted to clarify the matter.
“I did not intend my tweet to cause any offense to Rockets fans and friends of mine in China,” Morey said in the statement. “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.”
It wasn’t immediately clear if Morey’s new tweets or the NBA’s statement would be enough to salvage the various relationships. Chinese athletic apparel maker Li-Ning also released a statement saying it was upset with Morey’s tweet.
China’s relationship with the Rockets has been especially close because Yao played his entire NBA career with the team. Yao was appointed as the association’s president in February 2017, in what was presented as a step toward reform for an organization that had in the past been led by government bureaucrats.
“I have always appreciated the significant support our Chinese fans and sponsors have provided,” Morey tweeted. “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 CBA’s reaction underscores Beijing’s extreme sensitivity about foreign attitudes toward the ongoing protests that have lately grown into violence in the semi-autonomous territory. China accuses foreign parties in the United States and elsewhere of encouraging the demonstrations.
On Friday night, Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta denounced Morey’s tweet, saying the Rockets are not a political organization.
Listen….@dmorey does NOT speak for the @HoustonRockets. Our presence in Tokyo is all about the promotion of the @NBA internationally and we are NOT a political organization. @espn https://t.co/yNyQFtwTTi
— Tilman Fertitta (@TilmanJFertitta) October 5, 2019
Fertitta told ESPN’s Tim MacMahon that he felt compelled, due to the reaction to Morey’s tweet, to publicly clarify that the Rockets do not take political positions, but Fertitta stressed he has no issues with Morey.
“I have the best general manager in the league,” Fertitta said. “Everything is fine with Daryl and me. We got a huge backlash, and I wanted to make clear that the organization has no political position. We’re here to play basketball and not to offend anybody.”
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.