TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The NBA has come under heavy criticism from U.S. lawmakers and the public for what appears to be a defense of the Chinese government and its policy towards Hong Kong.
The controversy took shape on Sunday (Oct. 6) after Houston Rockets manager Daryl Morey published, and promptly deleted, a tweet that showed support for the public protests in Hong Kong. Morey’s original tweet was an image that read “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.”
Morey, likely on the advice of others, quickly deleted the tweet after sharing it, but a cycle of internet outrage among Chinese netizens had already begun. The NBA and the owner of the Rockets, Tilman Fertitta, were fast to attempt damage control, with the NBA calling Morey’s tweet regrettable and Fertitta insisting that Morey does not speak for the team.
Screenshot of Morey's deleted tweet
By Sunday evening, the outrage in China had already reached the heads of some major businesses and organizations, which threatened to boycott the Rockets or even the entire NBA. Tencent announced that its media services would no longer broadcast Houston Rockets’ games.
Another organization offended by the tweet was the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA), whose president is Yao Ming, a former player for the Houston Rockets. The CBA announced that it would suspend its relationship with the Houston Rockets, reports AP News.
Soon after the NBA issued its apology to Chinese fans, lawmakers across the political divide in the U.S. chimed in to scold the actions of the NBA. Texas Senator Ted Cruz, whose hometown is Houston, tweeted “As a lifelong Houston Rockets fan, I was proud to see Morey call out the Chinese Communist Party’s repressive treatment of protesters in Hong Kong. Now, in pursuit of big $$, the NBA is shamefully retreating.”
Missouri Senator Josh Hawley went a step further to chastise the NBA for their poorly considered response to Morey’s 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
Democratic presidential candidate Julian Castro, a Texas native, also recognized that China was using its economic power to silence critics. Castro called on the U.S. to take the lead and show more support for the protestors in Hong Kong.
China is using its economic power to silence critics—even those in the U.S.— Julián Castro (@JulianCastro) October 7, 2019
The United States must lead with our values and speak out for pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong, and not allow American citizens to be bullied by an authoritarian government. https://t.co/87U4jgsAAp
On Monday, Morey responded to the controversy with a new tweet that included the following message.“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.”
As with most controversies involving nationalistic Chinese netizens, the damage of Morey’s single tweet has already been done. The mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, the People’s Daily,” declared that “Morey’s position is hurtful to Chinese basketball fans and is also an affront to the Chinese people.”