Several Chinese businesses are suspending ties with the Houston Rockets after the American basketball team’s general manager expressed support for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests.
Daryl Morey set off a firestorm in China over the weekend when he posted an image on Twitter that read, “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong.” Tensions between Hong Kong and Beijing, which controls the former British colony, have been fueled by months of political unrest.
The backlash from China followed quickly. The Chinese Basketball Association said Sunday it would suspend all cooperation with the Texas-based team. The association’s chairman is Yao Ming, a former Rockets player.
China’s consulate general in Houston also urged the team to “clarify and immediately correct the mistakes” in a statement on Sunday.
The NBA team’s partnerships in China were thrown into doubt. CCTV 5, the sports channel of China’s top state broadcaster, announced that it would suspend airing Houston Rockets events on television.
And Tencent (TCEHY) Sports said it would suspend live streaming for Houston Rockets games, as well as news about the team. Tencent (TCEHY) is the NBA’s exclusive digital partner in China. Nearly 500 million people in China watched NBA programming on Tencent (TCEHY) platforms during the last season, according to the companies. They recently signed a five-year extension of that partnership.
Sponsors distanced themselves from the Houston Rockets as well. Li-Ning Company, which makes sportswear, and Shanghai Pudong Development Bank each said over the weekend that they would suspend cooperation with the team.
NBA expresses regret
The backlash triggered responses from the NBA and Morey. The NBA said Monday that it recognizes that Morey’s views “have deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China, which is regrettable.”
“While Daryl has made it clear that his tweet does not represent the Rockets or the NBA, the values of the league support individuals educating themselves and sharing their views on matters important to them,” NBA Chief Communications Officer Mike Bass said in a statement, which was published on the Chinese social media website Weibo. “We have great respect for the history and culture of China and hope that sports and the NBA can be used as a unifying force to bridge cultural divides and bring people together.”
Morey’s original tweet on the subject has since been deleted. In a new series of tweets on Monday, he said that he was speaking on his own behalf.
“I did not intend my tweet to cause any offense to Rockets fans and friends of mine in China,” Morey said. “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.”
Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta tried to distance the team from politics. The team is in Tokyo for a series of preseason games against the Toronto Raptors this week.
Morey “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,” Fer