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 SI.com, Daniel Victor of The New York Times, and Adam Zagoria of Forbes.