The National Basketball Association won't gag its personnel or apologize over a team executive's tweet that ignited a firestorm in China, commissioner Adam Silver insisted yesterday, standing firm despite a growing backlash that imperils the league's lucrative Chinese following. The tweet last Friday by Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey supporting pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong has infuriated Chinese fans and led to broadcasters and sponsors severing ties with the NBA.
But Silver, speaking at a press conference in Japan where the Rockets are playing exhibition games this week, said the world's top basketball league would continue to "support freedom of expression and certainly freedom of expression of the NBA community." "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," Silver said in a statement before the press conference.
The NBA has found itself squeezed between Chinese anger, and criticism from U.S. presidential candidates, influential senators, and fans over initial statements by the league seen as kowtowing to authoritarian China. Silver plans to travel to Shanghai today for a pair of NBA exhibition games in China between the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets, saying he hoped to meet with officials to discuss the impasse. But while expressing "regret" that Morey's comments upset China, Silver said the league is "not apologizing for Daryl exercising his freedom of expression."
Earlier yesterday, China's Communist Party-controlled broadcaster announced that it had shelved plans to broadcast the two preseason exhibition games in China and was considering more punishments. "We believe that any comments that challenge national sovereignty and social stability are not within the scope of freedom of speech," China Central Television (CCTV) said on its social media account. Chinese internet giant Tencent, which streams NBA games to hundreds of millions of fans in China each year, quickly followed suit. A number of Chinese actors and singers said they would boycott the two exhibition games.