The NBA has been accused of being a ‘puppet of Beijing’ and craven to the lucrative Chinese market for failing to back Daryl Morey after he tweeted support for Hong Kong protesters, sparking business to cut ties with the Texas team.
Fans, and politicians of both parties, took to Twitter today in the wake of the league’s response to the Houston Rockets general manager’s now deleted tweet which consisted of an image of the activists’ rally cry: ‘Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong.’
That post drew rebuke from the Chinese Basketball Association, which is headed by former Rockets star center Yao Ming, who said it would suspend cooperation with the Rockets and said Sunday via its official social media that it ‘strongly disagrees’ with Morey’s ‘improper remarks’ regarding Hong Kong.
And the NBA responded Sunday with a statement saying they recognize Morey’s views ‘deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China’, adding the association has ‘great respect for the history and culture of China’.
That sparked fierce criticism with one fan writing: ‘Guess the NBA is only as progressive and forward thinking as China allows them to be.’
Another said they were ‘disgusted’ by the NBA’s statement, adding: ‘If you care about democracy, freedom, and American values, let the @NBA know how you feel.’
Others piled in to say the NBA had ‘become puppets of communists’, calling the Houston Rockets ‘pathetic’.
One fan tweeted: ‘Also, screw the NBA for not supporting Daryl Morey’s tweet supporting Hong Kong. If the NBA is really going to become another corporate puppet blinding itself against human rights abuses in China, they should be rightfully called out.’
Another argued the league had ‘bowed to communists’ because of money.
Morey has been referring to the four-month old protest movement that has upturned the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.
He was back on social media Sunday with a pair of tweets about the incident saying he ‘did not intend my tweet to cause any offense’.
Morey wrote: ‘1/ 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.
‘2/ 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.’
Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous region in China, is in the midst of months-long protests — sometimes violent — with Beijing sensitive to foreign influence on the unrest.
The Rockets are in Tokyo for the NBA Japan Games 2019 featuring preseason games against the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday and Thursday.
On Friday, Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta wrote on Twitter: ‘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.’
The statement drew immediate backlash online, with journalists and U.S. lawmakers from both parties slamming it.
Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) was one of the first lawmakers to weigh in on the statement, calling it “shameful.”
“It’s clear that the @NBA is more interested in money than human rights. Tonight’s statement from Commissioner Silver is an absolute joke,” he wrote, referring to Adam Silver.
“The NBA is kowtowing to Beijing to protect their bottom line and disavowing those with the temerity to #standwithHongKong. Shameful!”
It’s clear that the @NBA is more interested in money than human rights. Tonight’s statement from Commissioner Silver is an absolute joke.
— Rick Scott (@SenRickScott) October 7, 2019
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) criticized the statement and referenced alleged human rights abuses in China, including the repression of Uighur Muslims.
“Chinese govt has a million people locked in concentration camps & is trying to brutally repress Hong Kong demonstrators – and NBA wants to “bridge cultural divides”? Cultural divides?” he asked in a tweet.
Chinese govt has a million people locked in concentration camps & is trying to brutally repress Hong Kong demonstrators – and NBA wants to “bridge cultural divides”? Cultural divides? https://t.co/d6jXQOzb5F
— Josh Hawley (@HawleyMO) October 7, 2019
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) slammed the statement, accusing the NBA of putting money over human rights.
“As a lifelong @HoustonRockets fan, I was proud to see @dmorey call out the Chinese Communist Party’s repressive treatment of protestors in Hong Kong,” Cruz tweeted.
“Now, in pursuit of big $$, the @nba is shamefully retreating. We’re better than this; human rights shouldn’t be for sale & the NBA shouldn’t be assisting Chinese communist censorship.”
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) October 7, 2019
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) called the statement “a mistake that they should fix quickly.”
This is a mistake that they should fix quickly. https://t.co/qNmKNTdksV
— Brian Schatz (@brianschatz) October 7, 2019
Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Penn.) called the statement a “disgrace.”
“Stop putting the almighty [dollar emoji] before human rights, for once,” he added.
The @NBA statement is a disgrace. Stop putting the almighty 💵 before human rights, for once.
— US Rep Brendan Boyle (@RepBrendanBoyle) October 7, 2019
Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) on Sunday hit Fertitta for “siding with communism.”
“Listen….some things are more important than money. Like doing the right thing,” he wrote.
“@dmorey tweeted about human rights and supporting #HongKongProtests. How ironic that you’re siding with communism to advance your greed.”
Listen….some things are more important than money. Like doing the right thing. @dmorey tweeted about human rights and supporting #HongKongProtests. How ironic that you’re siding with communism to advance your greed. https://t.co/RoyJ3o3bbY
— Rep. Eric Swalwell (@RepSwalwell) October 7, 2019
The Houston Rockets’ Chinese sponsor and a Chinese sportswear maker had already suspended work with the basketball team.
Morey quickly deleted the tweet, sportswear brand Li-Ning and sponsor Shanghai Pudong Development Bank (SPD Bank) Credit Card Center said on Sunday they were suspending cooperation with it.
The Rockets are widely followed in China, partly because they drafted the Chinese basketball player Yao Ming in 2002, who became a star for them and helped build the NBA’s following there.
‘We want to express our indignation and strong condemnation,’ read a statement from Li-Ning, published on the Twitter-like Weibo platform. ‘We have already stopped our cooperation with the Houston Rockets, and continue to urge them to give a clear answer on this matter.’
China’s SPD Bank also said on Sunday that it has suspended related marketing activities and publicity.
‘SPD Bank Credit Card Center expresses strong protest and opposition to the wrong remarks made by Houston Rockets’ General Manager Daryl Morey,’ the bank said in a statement on its Weibo account.
Neither statements said whether the decisions were permanent.