NBA boss Adam Silver says it’s not their job to regulate speech

Chinese state broadcaster refuses to show NBA preseason games as basketball boss Adam Silver says it’s not the league’s job to regulate speech following controversial tweet from Houston Rockets GM in support of Hong Kong protests

  • Chinese state television, CCTV, is refusing to air NBA preseason games played in the country this week 
  • It comes as the backlash continues following a controversial tweet from Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey backing the Hong Kong protests 
  • Morey apologized on Monday for the tweet which he swiftly deleted over the weekend but it caused outrage in China
  • Chinese sponsors and broadcasters have since yanked support for the NBA and the Rockets 
  • NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has since spoken up for freedom of speech saying it was not up to the NBA to regulate speech
  • He added it wasn’t up to the NBA to adjudicate differences between people around the world 

Chinese state television is refusing to air NBA preseason games played in the country this week as the backlash continues following a controversial tweet from a Houston Rockets executive backing the Hong Kong protests. 

The NBA’s lucrative Chinese following is facing an unprecedented threat after Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey last week tweeted support for pro-democracy protests in the Chinese territory of Hong Kong. 

Morey apologized on Monday for the tweet which he swiftly deleted over the weekend but it caused outrage among Chinese fans and the team’s business partners in the key NBA market. 

Chinese sponsors and broadcasters have since yanked support for the NBA and the Rockets. 

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has since spoken up for freedom of speech saying it was not up to the NBA to regulate what players, employees and team owners said, nor to adjudicate differences between people around the world.  

NBA boss Adam Silver says its not the league’s job to regulate speech following controversial tweet from Houston Rockets GM in support of Hong Kong protests

The NBA had earlier issued a statement saying it regretted Morey’s remarks, which drew harsh criticism from U.S. lawmakers.

But Silver, who is in Japan for an exhibition game, later defended Morey and said the NBA was not apologizing for him ‘expressing his freedom of expression’. 

‘It is inevitable that people around the world – including from America and China – will have different viewpoints over different issues,’ Silver said in a statement. 

Houston Rockets' general manager, Daryl Morey, apologized on Monday for the tweet he swiftly deleted over the weekend that included an image of the activists' rally cry: 'Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong'

Houston Rockets’ general manager, Daryl Morey, apologized on Monday for the tweet he swiftly deleted over the weekend that included an image of the activists’ rally cry: ‘Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong’ 

‘It is not the role of the NBA to adjudicate those differences.’

He later said at a press conference that the NBA was not willing to compromise on its values of freedom of expression.  

‘I regret, having communicated directly with many friends in China, that so many people are upset, including millions and millions of our fans,’ Silver said.

‘I’m sympathetic to our interests here and to our partners who are upset. I don’t think it’s inconsistent on one hand to be sympathetic to them and at the same time stand by our principles.’

China’s state broadcaster, CCTV, said it strongly opposed Silver’s support of Morey and that it was reviewing its relationship with the NBA.

CCTV argued that any comments that challenged a country’s sovereignty and social stability were ‘not within the scope of freedom of speech’. 

The NBA has worked for years to cultivate the Chinese market and regularly plays exhibition games there. Its top stars, including Rockets guard James Harden, frequently visit to meet fans and take part in promotions with sponsors. 

The Rockets are widely followed in China, partly because they drafted Yao Ming in 2002, who became a star for Houston and helped build the NBA’s following in China. 

Yao, who is now the Chinese basketball chief, is ‘extremely hot’ over the controversy sparked by Morey’s pro-democracy tweet.

Houston Rockets' general manager, Daryl Morey, apologized on Monday for the tweet he swiftly deleted over the weekend that included an image of the activists' rally cry: 'Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong'

Houston Rockets’ general manager, Daryl Morey, apologized on Monday for the tweet he swiftly deleted over the weekend that included an image of the activists’ rally cry: ‘Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong’ 

Former Rockets player Yao Ming, who is now the Chinese basketball chief, is 'extremely hot' over the controversy sparked by Morey's pro-democracy tweet

Former Rockets player Yao Ming, who is now the Chinese basketball chief, is ‘extremely hot’ over the controversy sparked by Morey’s pro-democracy tweet

Silver said he hoped to work with Yao to cool the escalating dispute after saying variously that he was ‘extremely upset’, ‘extremely unsettled’ and ‘extremely hot’. 

‘I am hoping that together, Yao Ming and I can find an accommodation,’ said Silver, who visits Yao’s hometown of Shanghai on Wednesday for two pre-season exhibition games. 

‘But he is extremely hot at the moment and I understand it.’ 

Although the two league bosses would be expected to meet as the NBA stages its annual China pre-season exhibition games, Silver did not explicitly confirm that a meeting would take place.

Silver said the NBA had ‘communicated directly’ with Yao over the controversy.

‘I am not sure he quite accepts how we are operating our business right now, and I accept that we have a difference of opinion,’ Silver said.

‘I don’t come here to tell others how to run their governments… But at the end of the day I am an American and there are these values that are deeply rooted in the DNA of the NBA, and that includes freedom of expression for our employees.’

It comes as Chinese business have said they will no longer cooperate with the Rockets in the wake of the controversy.  

In addition to CCTV refusing to broadcast NBA pre-season exhibition games this week, the broadcaster vowed to not show any future Rockets games.  

Tencent Sports, which is the NBA’s digital partner in China, also said it would suspend live streaming for future Rockets games. They also said they would not cover or post news about the team.  

Sportswear brand Li-Ning and sponsor Shanghai Pudong Development Bank (SPD Bank) Credit Card Center said on Sunday they were suspending cooperation with the Rockets.

‘We want to express our indignation and strong condemnation,’ read a statement from Li-Ning, published on the Twitter-like Weibo platform.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz criticized the response of the NBA on Twitter on Sunday

Texas Senator Ted Cruz criticized the response of the NBA on Twitter on Sunday 

Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke also tweeted in response to the statement

Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke also tweeted in response to the statement

Florida Senator Rick Scott also weighed in accusing the NBA of being more interested in money than human rights

Florida Senator Rick Scott also weighed in accusing the NBA of being more interested in money than human rights

Democratic presidential candidate Julian said China was using its economic power to silence critics

Democratic presidential candidate Julian said China was using its economic power to silence critics

New Jersey Congressman Tom Malinowski tweeted the China was using its economic power to censor speech by Americans in the U.S.

New Jersey Congressman Tom Malinowski tweeted the China was using its economic power to censor speech by Americans in the U.S.

‘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. 

Chinese smartphone maker Vivo, a key sponsor for the exhibition games in China, announced on Tuesday it was suspending all ties with the NBA, underscoring the strength of the backlash in the country.

Chinese sportswear maker ANTA Sports Products Ltd, which has endorsement contracts with several NBA players including Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson and Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward, also said on Tuesday it was halting contract renewal negotiations with the league.

 

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