Last week Houston Rockets’ General Manager Daryl Morey brought the NBA into the ongoing controversy between China and pro-democracy protesters when he tweeted “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.”
While Morey has deleted the offending tweet and issued an apology along with both Rockets star James Harden, and the NBA as a whole, several United States politicians backed Morey’s initial comments and instead faulted the league’s attempt to backpedal from controversy. According to the Daily Mail, politicians on both sides of the isle joined the critique of the league’s public relations fiasco.
“I did not intend my tweet to cause any offense to Rockets fans and friends of mine in China,” Morey tweeted his initial apology. “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.”
The NBA also issued an apology, calling Morey’s first comments “regrettable” and expressed hope that league can act as a “unifying force” between opposing cultures.
NEW: the NBA has released a statement on Daryl Morey: pic.twitter.com/FOI79W31b1
— Sopan Deb (@SopanDeb) October 7, 2019
While the initial comments appeared as an effort to apologize to disaffected Chinese fans, they also came amid several NBA efforts to bring the league to a wider Chinese audience. According to ESPN, the NBA had games planned before audiences in Shanghai and in Shenzhen, China. Chinese teams have also held pre-season games in the U.S.
“I was a proud to see @dmorey call out the Chinese Communist Party’s repressive treatment of protestors in Hong Kong,” Republican Texas Senator Ted Cruz said in a tweet Sunday night. “Now, in pursuit of big $$, the @nba is shamefully retreating.”
We’re better than this; human rights shouldn’t be for sale & the NBA shouldn’t be assisting Chinese communist censorship.
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) October 7, 2019
“We’re better than this; human rights shouldn’t be for sale,” Cruz continued.
Fellow Republican and Florida Senator Rick Scott added his own pressure to the NBA, calling on Commissioner Adam Silver to meet with him and discuss ongoing issues pertaining to Hong Kong’s ongoing protests to maintain some of its autonomy from the Chinese mainland.
Got a response from the @NBA. They said Commissioner Silver is not available for a meeting because he’s on NBA business in Asia.
Maybe he should make a pit stop in #HongKong to see the people fighting for their autonomy and human dignity. https://t.co/hLCTE8lCIW
— Rick Scott (@SenRickScott) October 7, 2019
After Silver appeared unable to accept Scott’s invitation, due to league business in Asia, Scott said “maybe he should make a pitstop in #HongKong to see the people fighting for their autonomy and human dignity.”
Robert ‘Beto’ O’Rourke, a one-time Senate challenger to Cruz and current Democratic candidate for U.S. President, also added to the criticism of the NBA.
“The only thing the NBA should be apologizing for is their blatant prioritization of profits over human rights. What an embarrassment,” he tweeted.
The only thing the NBA should be apologizing for is their blatant prioritization of profits over human rights. What an embarrassment. https://t.co/bbiwCBTwc1
— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) October 7, 2019
The NBA’s initial appeal to China reportedly failed to sufficiently appease the country, as Chinese sponsors halted deals with the Rockets and Chinese broadcasters took the team’s games off their broadcast schedule.