- Daryl Morey, the general manager of the NBA’s Houston Rockets, 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 afterward.
- On Monday, however, the NBA commissioner, Adam Silver, defended Morey’s freedom to express his political opinions.
- The Chinese 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 a team executive’s freedom to express support for the Hong Kong protests.
In a tweet posted last Friday, the Houston Rockets’ general manager, Daryl 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 deleted the tweet and sought to distance his opinions from those of the Rockets or the NBA – but the damage had already been done, as the Hong Kong protests are deeply unpopular in China.
Several of the team’s Chinese sponsors and partners – including the state broadcaster China Central Television and the livestreaming platform Tencent Sports – immediately said they would stop broadcasting Rockets games.
CCTV went even further Tuesday, issuing a statement on the social-media platform Weibo noting its “strong dissatisfaction and opposition” to comments made by the NBA commissioner, Adam Silver, defending Morey’s freedom of expression and announcing it would stop broadcasting all 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.
Tencent Sports also issued a statement on Tuesday saying that it will temporarily stop showing all NBA preseason games, effective immediately.
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.
The Rockets and the NBA initially scrambled to distance themselves from the tweet, 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, describing Morey’s comments as “inappropriate.”
An NBA spokesman, Mike Bass, later argued 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, 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 – whether protests in Hong Kong or oppression and surveillance in Xinjiang – are matters of national sovereignty that are 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 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 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.”
He added: “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.”
The NBA has released a new statement from Commissioner Adam Silver on the league's interests in China, saying it won't regulate the viewpoints of employees or players: pic.twitter.com/GcsH1CoLhi
— Kyle Goon (@kylegoon) October 8, 2019
The pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong continue to rage into their 18th week, with demonstrations becoming increasingly violent. Last week the police shot an 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 wanted demonstrations to end peacefully, the Chinese military could step in if the uprising “becomes so bad.”