‘Summer hooliganism’: China media slams National Basketball Association in free speech row

Marco Green
October 9, 2019

At least one Chinese sporting goods company said it was no longer cooperating with the Rockets, NBA streaming partner Tencent Holdings Ltd (騰訊) - which has a US$1.5 billion contract with the league over the next five seasons - said it would not show Rockets games and a sports news Web site in China said it was no longer covering the team.

The NBA is mired in a political controversy in China after Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted last week - then deleted - a message supporting pro-democracy protesters in the Chinese special administrative region of Hong Kong.

Basketball is hugely popular in China, and Mr Morey's tweet caused outrage on Chinese social media even after he deleted it.

"I understand there are consequences from that exercise of, in essence, his freedom of speech".

A ceremonial NBA Cares event for an educational center in Shanghai with the Nets was canceled Tuesday, though the Nets participated in other events as scheduled. Morey's tweet reportedly supported the anti-government demonstrations taking place in Hong Kong and after it was shared, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver also backed up Morey's statements.

"I think it's unfortunate", he said.

National Basketball Association commissioner Adam Silver is ready to accept the consequences for defending freedom of speech, even if supporting those values means losing the riches that Chinese business partnerships have brought the league.

"It's my hope that for our Chinese fans and our partners in China, they will see those remarks in the context of now a three-decade, if not longer, relationship".

One fan tweeted: "Please cancel the China games and get lakers back to America ASAP".

The strong reactions to Morey's tweet underscore China's sensitivity about foreign attitudes toward the ongoing Hong Kong protests that have grown into violence in the semi-autonomous territory.

Hong Kong has been rocked by protests since June that were ignited by a now-scrapped plan to allow extraditions of criminal suspects to the mainland but snowballed into a movement calling for more democratic freedoms and police accountability. Activists saw that as a threat to the legal rights that Hong Kong residents have under the current "one country, two systems" framework.

Early NBA statements on the issue drew fire from United States critics as overly capitulating, setting the stage for Silver to settle matters in Tokyo.

But Silver said the league "will not put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees and team owners say or will not say on these issues".

Silver also responded to those criticizing the league's approach over the past several days, including some USA lawmakers who have called for the league to take action - some even suggesting the league should cancel its games in China.

The NBA had also said that "the values of the league support individuals' educating themselves and sharing their views on matters important to them".

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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