China loves the NBA, but they aren’t fans of the free speech.
The Houston Rockets found themselves in a bit of a tangle, after general manager Daryl Morey tweeted a picture, expressing solidarity with the Hong Kong protests. The picture read ‘FIGHT FOR FREEDOM STAND WITH HONG KONG’, but was later removed, followed by an apology from Morey.
The tweet met the ire of Chinese officials and fans who support the ‘One China’ ideology. With China representing a large market of growth for the NBA, and the Rocket’s specifically, Tilman Fertitta, Rocket’s majority stakeholder, was quick to jump on damage control.
Tilman separated Morey’s comments from the organization asserting Morey does not speak for the team. A similar sentiment was expressed by Morey on his own Twitter account.
Adam Silver was also quick to respond, although not to the extent one may have expected from an organization eyeing massive growth in the country. In an official statement, Silver shared that the league values free speech and that they will not regulate these issues.
Unfortunately, China isn’t as fond of free speech. Despite Morey’s almost immediate rescindment of his original tweet, and subsequent apology, Chinese broadcaster CCTV (no we aren’t being ironic, it stands for China Central Television) have stated they will not broadcast NBA preseason games. This includes the matchup between the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets, which is being hosted in China.
The Rockets themselves are feeling the pinch, with China’s internet giant, Tencent Holding’s, refusing to cover the team. Rockets games will no longer be available to stream in China, and their stats will be withheld. Tencent is the NBA’s Official Digital Partner in China and the countries only source for anything NBA. This is a major hit for a team that is highly favored in China, after being the first team to draft a Chinese player, in Yao Ming, back in 2002.
However, many of those same fans have also voiced their strong disapproval of the tweet, specifically, the league’s reaction to it. Posts on Weibo, China’s Twitter, mocked Silvers support of free speech given Morey’s controversial views. Some were even as heinous as to support the 9/11 attacks, and support the independence of California as expressions of free speech.
With the NBA’s global presence growing every season, and China being an integral market to that growth, it will be interesting to see how the league and the Rocket’s organization move forward with this issue. With protests for more democratic freedoms ongoing in Hong Kong and the NBA’s liberal stance on free speech, it’s hard to believe this issue will solve itself.