- Daryl Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets basketball team, tweeted a graphic in support of the Hong Kong protests last week.
- The Rockets and the NBA attempted to distance themselves from the tweet immediately afterwards.
- However, on Monday, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver defended Morey’s freedom to express his political opinions.
- China’s state-run broadcaster CCTV responded by halting all broadcasts of NBA preseason games, adding: “Any speech challenging a country’s national sovereignty and social stability is not within the scope of freedom of speech.”
- Basketball is hugely popular in China, and the NBA stands to lose hundreds of millions of dollars if it loses its Chinese sponsors.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
China has suspended its broadcasts of the NBA after the league’s commissioner defended Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey’s freedom to express support for the Hong Kong protests.
In a tweet posted last Friday, Morey posted a graphic containing the logo of Stand With Hong Kong, an activist group that has called for foreign intervention in the city.
—Norman Hermant (@NormanHermant) October 7, 2019
Morey has since deleted the tweet, and clarified that his views do not reflect those of the Rockets or the NBA — but the damage had already been done.
Several of the team’s Chinese sponsors and partners — including state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) and livestreaming platform Tencent Sports — immediately said they would stop broadcasting Rockets games.
CCTV went even further Tuesday, issuing a statement on Weibo noting its “strong dissatisfaction and opposition” to comments made by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver defending Morey’s freedom of expression, and announcing it would stop broadcasting NBA preseason games in the country.
“We believe that any speech challenging a country’s national sovereignty and social stability is not within the scope of freedom of speech,” CCTV added.
It’s not clear if Tencent Video will make a similar decision to CCTV. The company has not responded to Business Insider’s request for comment on its next steps.
Basketball is hugely popular in China, with the country boasting nearly 500 million viewers of NBA games last season on Tencent alone. In June, the NBA signed a five-year partnership with Tencent worth about $1.5 billion, the state-run CGTN news reported.
Soon after Morey’s tweet the Rockets and the NBA scrambled to distance themselves from it, with the league saying in a Sunday statement that Morey’s comments “deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China, which is regrettable.”
The NBA’s Chinese-language statement went further to say that Morey’s comments were “inappropriate.”
NBA spokesman Mike Bass later claimed there were “various interpretations” of the Chinese version, and stood by the league’s English-language statement.
The NBA has since been in hot water for distancing itself from Morey’s tweet, with critics pointing out the league’s previous support for players making political statements.
But on Monday, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver hit out at those critics, telling Japan’s Kyodo News: “I think as a values-based organization that I want to make it clear … that Daryl Morey is supported in terms of his ability to exercise his freedom of expression.”
“There is no doubt, the economic impact is already clear,” he added.
“There have already been fairly dramatic consequences from that tweet, and I have read some of the media suggesting that we are not supporting Daryl Morey, but in fact we have.”
The Chinese Communist Party has long argued that any political issues within its state borders — be it protests in Hong Kong or oppression and surveillance in Xinjiang — are a matter of national sovereignty that is none of the business of foreigners.
The country also regularly censors online content that has the potential to destabilize the Communist Party’s grip on power.
The NBA has not yet responded to Business Insider’s request for comment on CCTV’s decision.
On Tuesday morning, Silver issued a new statement standing by his support for league members to express their political views. He added, however, that it was “not the role of the NBA to adjudicate” people’s differences in opinion.
“One of the enduring strengths of the NBA is our diversity,” he said. “It is inevitable that people around the world — including from America and China — will have different viewpoints over different issues. It is not the role of the NBA to adjudicate those differences.”
“However, 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.”
—Kyle Goon (@kylegoon) October 8, 2019
The protests in Hong Kong continue to rage into their 18th week, with demonstrations becoming increasingly violent. Last week police shot a 18-year-old in the chest in their first use of live ammunition since June, and demonstrators threw acid at officers.
Carrie Lam, the city’s leader, said on Tuesday that while she still wants demonstrations to end peacefully, the Chinese military could step in if the uprising “becomes so bad.”