Latest On NBA’s Morey/China Controversy

As we relayed on Sunday, the Chinese Basketball Association and other business in China have suspended their relations with the Rockets in the wake of a Daryl Morey tweet in which the Houston general manager expressed support for protestors in Hong Kong. Although Morey deleted the tweet and the Rockets and the NBA made efforts to walk it back, the league remains in a tenuous spot, writes Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today.

The NBA issued a statement on Sunday, calling it “regrettable” that Morey’s tweet had offended “many of our friends and fans in China” and noting that Morey’s tweet didn’t represent the Rockets or the NBA. However, the league doesn’t intend to fine, suspend, or otherwise punish the Houston GM, sources tell Zillgitt.

Interestingly, the NBA’s statement also looked a little different in Chinese than it did in English, according to Yanan Wang of The Associated Press. In Chinese, the league referred to Morey’s tweet as “inappropriate,” a word that didn’t show up in the English statement. League spokesperson Mike Bass said today that the discrepancy wasn’t intentional (Twitter link via Zillgitt).

The NBA has to walk a fine line in this controversy, since the league typically hasn’t discouraged its coaches, players, and executives from speaking up about political and social justice causes that matter to them. In this case though, it’s clear that the NBA’s business interests in China’s massive market are influencing the league’s decision to distance itself from Morey’s initial comments and to placate its Chinese partners.

Here’s more on the controversy:

  • John Gonzalez of The Ringer cited league sources who claim that the Rockets have debated Morey’s employment status and whether to replace him. However, several reporters – including Sam Amick of USA Today, Jerome Solomon of The Houston Chronicle, and Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle (all Twitter links) – have heard from sources that’s not the case and that Morey’s job isn’t in jeopardy.
  • Morey hasn’t apologized for his initial tweet, but issued a follow-up statement in which he stressed that he didn’t intend any offense and expressed his appreciation for “our Chinese fans and sponsors.”
  • Rockets star James Harden, who has participated in promotional tours in China in the past, was among those in damage-control mode this weekend, per an ESPN report. “We apologize. You know, we love China. We love playing there,” Harden said. “For both of us individually, we go there once or twice a year. They show us the most important love.”
  • New Nets owner Joe Tsai issued an open letter to fans (via Facebook) providing more context on the situation in Hong Kong and China and criticizing Morey for not being “as well informed as he should have been.” Tsai’s framing of the Hong Kong protests as a “separatist movement,” rather than a fight for civil rights and democracy, echoes language used by the Chinese government. It’s worth noting that no NBA owner is more invested in China than Tsai, the co-founder of Alibaba Group.
  • The Chinese Basketball Association has cancelled the G League exhibition games between the Rockets‘ and Mavericks‘ affiliates scheduled to take place in the country later this month, sources tell Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link).
  • For more analysis on the saga, be sure to check out pieces from Chris Mannix of, Daniel Victor of The New York Times, and Adam Zagoria of Forbes.
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36 thoughts on “Latest On NBA’s Morey/China Controversy

      • arc89

        We are talking China. If anyone in China doesn’t support the regime 100% they black ball them. You can not speak out against their leadership or you are gone. Sounds like what is going on in America right now how dare you question me.

        • Reflect

          Yes, and that is wrong, but it’s their country, not ours. The NBA are their guests, not the other way around. If someone was publicly critical of you would you let them enjoy your home? Use your cable/Netflix, internet, sleep in your bed?

  1. rxbrgr

    The NBA, Fertitta/Rockets org, and Morey are cowards and hypocrites in the extreme. In that order.

    • Gary

      Political correctness has taken over. You can’t tell the truth, for your own opinion, that may offend somebody and especially if it’s someone with Deep Pockets, IE the NBA. Or China.

  2. amk3510

    NBA doesn’t give a bleep about offending people. They just want that revenue from the Asian market. Adam Silver even sent the Kings and Pacers to play in a 3rd world country to squeeze out more foreign dollars. Sellout.

    • 4Quarters

      You seem surprised. Like it hasn’t always been about the money. Or, at some point, maybe you were tricked into thinking it’s not about revenues…

      It always has and always will be about revenue.

      • amk3510

        Of course it always been about money, but the extent they are going to now is crazy. They are treating the pre season like an international tour.

  3. madmanTX

    The NBA and Tilman are hypocrites. Morey spoke up for democracy and if the NBA and Fertitta would rather embrace some Chinese currency than democratic reforms in China, then screw them all.

  4. brian_james

    This is horses**t. Criticizing a totalitarian regime is now politically incorrect?

    • Gary

      It is for the NBA and the rockets. Apologies all around for offending.

    • SheaGoodbye

      What are you talking about? This has nothing to do with political correctness. This has to do with business.

      • Gary

        It’s both. Many times they go hand-in-hand. You have to be politically correct so you don’t get fired from your job $$.

  5. kawg

    Ideas for Rockets’ entertainment this year:

    – Clutch shoots protesters with a water cannon.
    – Red Panda is sent to a labor camp.
    – Harden reads from the Little Read Book
    – The Anti-Gravity present: The Great Leap Forward
    – Ceremony celebrating the renaming the Toyota Center to “People’s Hall of Eternal Glory”
    – Hakeem Olajuwon has his organs harvested for being a Muslim minority
    – Frisbee Dogs

    • x%sure

      Why do frisbee dogs make this list? I like that. Clever list otherwise

  6. Sports

    NBA / Adam Silver care only about money. Moments like these define an era. Standing up for democracy and against communist ruling, is not a bad decision and a no brainer. NBA has been full of greed since the new CBA and I have zero respect or interest in NBA and its players if they can’t speak up for what’s right.
    They have no problem speaking up when it’s about our potus. But when it affects the bottom line … they’re pathetic and lack morals. Awful leadership. Eff NBa

  7. Stoop Down Low

    Apparently the ship has sailed on standing up for principle and I’ve been so busy I hadn’t noticed. Money calls the shots in the US of A and the sooner people stop going off course from that core message, the fewer brushfires like this we’ll have. Morey is one of the smartest GMs in the game and apparently he’s also plagued with a conscience, unlike too many of his peers and superiors. Coaches Popovich and Kerr are known to stand on principle, but maybe they just know where and where not to push.

  8. formerlyz

    Official apology from Matt Stone and Trey Parker to China

    “Like the NBA, we welcome the Chinese censors into our homes and into our hearts,” the statement reads. “We too love money more than freedom and democracy. Xi doesn’t look like Winnie the Pooh at all. Tune into our 300th episode this Wednesday at 10! Long live the great Communist Party of China. May the autumn’s sorghum harvest be bountiful. We good now China?”

  9. x%sure

    For many years, Americans and their companies have overrated the riches they can make in China.
    China inc. needs very little of what Americans dream of selling them and their partnerships must serve their ends.

  10. SheaGoodbye

    I guess I’m in the minority here, but I’m not going to criticize the NBA for taking this stance. A lot of you may like to talk the talk but I can guarantee that a majority of you would do the same thing as Silver if you were in his shoes. It’s easy to spout morals when you would have nothing at stake.

    The NBA is a business, first and foremost; let’s get that straight. And Silver is not about to jeopardize the NBA’s relationship with China over a single, essentially meaningless tweet (though I obviously support Morey’s message).

    Running a business is just like politics: if you never play the game, you would never have a shot at winning. It’s messed up, but you have to find your own way of balancing morals vs doing what’s best for the business itself.

    Yes, oftentimes businesses will prioritize the latter at the complete expense of the former, but I don’t think this situation would fall into that category just yet. For as bad as the situation is in Hong Kong right now, China hasn’t done anything that awful YET. The fear, of course, is that they will do something terrible at some point, at which point everything would change. If that were the case right now, my feelings on the NBA’s decision would be very different, needless to say.

    More importantly, what would the NBA defending Morey’s tweet have accomplished? Nothing but symbolism. In a perfect world with little to no ramifications, sure, that symbolism has value. But with billions of dollars on the line? No. Pretending you would throw away that kind of money despite knowing full well the limited impact your support would have is extremely naive. Simply put, you would not be the same person in that kind of setting as you would be right now.

    With all of that said, I’m glad the NBA is not fining or suspending Morey for speaking the truth. That would be going a step too far.

    • Gary

      Wow bro. So it’s money before morality? It’s pocket book before peoples welfare?

      Okay cool that’s your right to have that opinion and I respect all opinions.

      • SheaGoodbye

        I just don’t like to look at things in a black and white way. To me, each situation is unique and warrants consideration. Morality before money is too simplistic a viewpoint IMO.

        For instance, what if someone told you you would get a billion dollars for killing one person? On the one hand, you could argue that killing someone for money would always be immoral. On the other hand, you could argue that a billion dollars could help a far greater number of people. I know this example doesn’t really relate to the NBA’s situation, but it does prove my general point that things aren’t always so cut and dry.

        Let me put it this way: if China sends in troops to exterminate civilians as it did with Tiananmen Square, everyone should condemn (and punish) those actions, including the NBA. And even if China wouldn’t do that, depending on where things would go from here, a significant change of attitude could be warranted. As of right now, however, I don’t think the situation in Hong Kong warrants the NBA to put itself in a position of potentially losing billions of dollars over an action that would, in the end, not really help the people of Hong Kong. The NBA supporting Morey would, like it or not, not move the situation in China an inch, at least not without a coordinated effort with other large groups doing business in China.

        Moreover, I think this whole story has been blown out of proportion to some degree. At the level of government, we have ties to, and in some cases monetarily support, countries that have or continue to commit various atrocities. Murders, corruption, discrimination, etc. We continue to do extensive with business with mainland China despite the citizens there having far fewer freedoms than the folks in Hong Kong. Yes, Hong Kong is supposed to be “one country, two systems” so the reality is different, but in the end, what started this conflict was a single bill that their government attempted to pass. Granted, the concerns of the protestors now extend far beyond the bill itself, but it’s not like China originally undertook some great action as the flashpoint.

        Don’t get me wrong, I support the protestors in Hong Kong. I understand what they are fighting for. I want them to succeed. At the same time, I think you can sympathize with the protestors while at the same time acknowledging the realities of the business world. Everything has a price. If going against China would potentially only cost the NBA a few million dollars, criticize them. But the stakes are arguably much higher here given the NBA’s emphasis on international branding now, particularly in China.

        Anyway, I understand that my position is an unpopular one. And to be perfectly honest, it doesn’t feel right to me personally. With that said, in trying to put myself in Adam Silver’s shoes and not my own, I can understand why the NBA did what it did in THIS particular case. But I can still see where you’re coming from, so your criticism isn’t unwarranted.

        • Gary

          I would just have to respectfully disagree. It would never be right to kill one person for a gazillion dollars no matter how many people that good zillion dollars would help. I would never Advocate that for one second. But I’m sure I’m in the minority on that one so your stance is respected.

          But that’s what makes our country a great one. I can think one way you can think another and everything is fantastic. We vote we live we try to look out for each other and be good people. Good stuff bro.

          • SheaGoodbye

            Actually, I don’t think you’re in the minority here, if I remember anything from my philosophy class back in college. We had a similar question posed to us and I think the split was fairly even. Or maybe not. I don’t really remember lol. In any event, although I would obviously pick the latter choice,
            I completely understand your position and do not question it for a second.

            I agree. The danger only comes when people think truth, or something close to it, doesn’t exist since everyone is entitled to their own opinion. But with a question like this one, there truly is no truth or right answer.

            Yup! It’s been fun.

    • Gary

      Okay hold on you’re straddling the fence here. Which is it? You say in this giant long post one thing and at the end you say another.

      Then you’re the same guy above that said this is business and had nothing to do with politics, but in your giant post here you say it’s both? I guess I’m not understanding where you stand on this.

      • SheaGoodbye

        Morey should have the right to speak out and the NBA should have the right to say he doesn’t speak for us as a whole. That was my final point. I just think it wouldn’t have been right to fine/suspend him a) for speaking the truth and b) because it would look even worse for the league.

        And I said it had nothing to do with political correctness, not nothing to do with politics itself. There is a difference between the two, however small it might be.

        • SheaGoodbye

          On a related note, sports leagues have always censured free speech to a certain degree. If you complain about officiating, fine. If you say something inappropriate, fine. Yet we’re now only concerned about the notion of free speech given the context of the situation.

          With that said, I do find it a bit hypocritical that the NBA would remain silent when players would bash our current administration (not that I have any affinity for it), yet would take issue when the talk moves to Hong Kong. I suppose it’s due to it coming from an owner rather than a player, and in this case an owner whose organization has strong ties to China?

          • SheaGoodbye

            Thanks. I appreciate you even taking the time to read them given how wordy I can be haha.

  11. The nba hypocrisy at it’s best.I guess it’s all about the money.I guess social injustices don’t matter.I don’t hear any players complaining about this when you hear ITS NOT ABOUT THE MONEY FROM owners or players it’s a total lie

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