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China’s Communist Party asked NBA to fire Rockets GM over pro-freedom tweet

Houston Rockets bench in pre-season 2012. Left to right: Terrence Jones, Jeremy Lin, Chandler Parsons, and Patrick Patterson. (Norma Gonzalez/Flickr)
October 18, 2019

The NBA league Commissioner Adam Silver revealed Thursday that the communist Chinese government demanded he take corrective action against Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey over a pro-Hong Kong tweet that has sparked weeks of controversy.

Silver revealed the Chinese pressure against Morey after the Rockets general manager tweeted a message — “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong” — which echoed pro-Hong Kong sentiment and upset Chinese censors. At Time Magazine’s 100 Health Summit on Thursday, Silver said the NBA rejected the request of the Chinese government.

“We were being asked to fire him by the Chinese government. … We said there’s no chance that’s happening. There’s no chance we’ll even discipline him,” Silver said at the Times event.

Silver’s latest comment may be a sign of a break between the NBA and the Chinese government since the league has received widespread backlash for both begging for forgiveness from their Chinese viewers, and for the dismissive and even hypocritical comments of normally outspoken league members who have steered clear of China’s troubled human rights record.

In the fallout of Morey’s comments, Chinese broadcasters and sponsors have pulled support from several NBA games and from the Rockets team as a whole.

Morey deleted his offending tweet and issued his own personal apology in which he called his original pro-Hong Kong comments “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,” Morey continued. “I have always appreciated the significant support our Chinese fans and sponsors have provided and I would hope that those who are upset will know that offending or misunderstanding them was not my intention.”

The NBA’s initial appeal to China earned criticism from U.S. fans and politicians and the politically incorrect “South Park” cartoon issued a parody of the NBA’s apology in which they said, “Like the NBA, we welcome the Chinese censors into our homes and into our hearts. We too love money more than freedom and democracy.”

Aside from his apologies, Morey has not appeared to receive any additional reprimand, despite the damage his comments caused to NBA business interests in the country and Silver’s latest comments seem to indicate Morey will not receive any punishment at all.

While several NBA members had avoided questions about a league decision to reprimand Morey, NBA star Lebron James did speak out to criticize Morey as “misinformed” and suggested Morey should have waited to comment until after the NBA had concluded business interactions with China.

On Thursday, Silver revealed that the NBA’s China fallout has cost the league a substantial amount of money.

“I don’t know where we go from here,” Silver said. “The financial consequences have been and may continue to be fairly dramatic.”

The Chinese government has denied Silver’s claims of an effort to pressure Morey’s firing, according to Fox News.

“The Chinese government has never made this kind of request,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said.