Several days after Rockets general manager Daryl Morey deleted his now-infamous tweet expressing support for protestors in Hong Kong, the NBA and its partners in China don’t appear to be moving any closer to resolving the controversy it created.
Early on Tuesday morning, NBA commissioner Adam Silver followed up on the brief statement issued by the league on Sunday by publishing a new, lengthier statement which sought to clarify the NBA’s stance on the situation. In the statement, which can be read in full right here, Silver offered the following thoughts:
“Over the last three decades, the NBA has developed a great affinity for the people of China. We have seen how basketball can be an important form of people-to-people exchange that deepens ties between the United States and China.
“At the same time, we recognize that our two countries have different political systems and beliefs. And like many global brands, we bring our business to places with different political systems around the world.
“But for those who question our motivation, this is about far more than growing our business.
“Values of equality, respect and freedom of expression have long defined the NBA — and will continue to do so. As an American-based basketball league operating globally, among our greatest contributions are these values of the game.
“… 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.”
In response to Silver’s latest missive, the Chinese state-run television network CCTV announced it would be suspending its broadcasting agreement for NBA preseason games, writes Arjun Kharpal of CNBC.
As Stephen Wade and Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press explain, the Lakers and Nets are scheduled to play in Shanghai in Thursday and Shenzen on Saturday, and while those games are expected to proceed as planned, they won’t be aired by CCTV. Silver admitted the league wasn’t expecting the network to take those measures, per The Associated Press.
“But if those are the consequences of us adhering to our values, I still feel it’s very, very important to adhere to those values,” the NBA commissioner said.
It’s not clear if the “temporary” broadcast suspension will last into the regular season, but CCTV issued a statement in Chinese (translated by MSNBC) making it clear that it wasn’t happy with the stance taken by Silver and the NBA:
“We are strongly dissatisfied and we oppose Silver’s claim to support Morey’s right of free expression. We believe that any speech that challenges national sovereignty and social stability is not within the scope of freedom of speech.”
According to comments relayed by Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer (Twitter link), Silver still intends to attend Thursday’s exhibition contest in Shanghai and hopes to meet with the appropriate officials there to find common ground with the league’s partners in China. However, he added that he’s a “realist” and recognizes that the issue may not be resolved quickly.
Silver also said that he plans to meet this week with Yao Ming, the former Rockets center who is now the chairman of the Chinese Basketball Association (Twitter link via Rachel Nichols of ESPN).
“I’m hoping together Yao and I can find an accommodation, but he is extremely hot at the moment and I understand it,” Silver said.
While Silver’s latest press release asserted that the NBA’s stance is about more than “growing [its] business,” the commissioner acknowledged to Joel Fitzpatrick of Kyodo News on Monday that the controversy has already affected the league’s bottom line. According to The Associated Press’ report, the NBA’s agreement with Chinese streaming partner Tencent, which has said it will no longer show Rockets games, is worth $1.5 billion over the next five years.
However, Silver insisted that that those business issues wouldn’t affect the league’s support of Morey and others exercising their freedom of expression.
“There is no doubt, the economic impact is already clear,” he told Fitzpatrick. “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. 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.”