The league is struggling to balance its economic ambitions in China against American democratic norms as it navigates the fallout of Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s pro-Hong Kong tweet
ByBen CohenOct. 7, 2019 2:38 pm ET
The NBA is resisting Beijing’s pressure to punish a Houston Rockets executive who publicly supported protesters in Hong Kong amid a political furor in the U.S. as the league struggled to balance its economic ambitions in China against American democratic norms.
The now-deleted tweet by Rockets general manager Daryl Morey supporting the Hong Kong protesters has quickly exploded into a crisis for the league. Chinese sponsors have suspended their deals with the NBA, Chinese fans have called for boycotts and Chinese media have targeted Morey’s job, all while U.S. politicians assailed the league’s commitment to free speech.
But there are no plans to discipline Morey, people familiar with the matter said, even with the league embroiled in an unexpected showdown with a geopolitical colossus whose 1.4 billion people are central to its plans for international growth.
Morey and the NBA issued their statements in response to the Chinese outcry, but it remains unclear whether they would satisfy the Chinese government or whether Beijing would take further steps to distance itself from the league in what is quickly becoming a defining moment for NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s leadership.
The league suddenly finds itself attempting to avoid ferocious backlash in both China and the U.S. after the NBA’s initial response came under attack by Democrats and Republicans. American politicians across party lines defended Morey’s free speech and criticized the NBA’s pursuit of China’s business at the expense of human rights.
In a demonstration of how complex the situation is for the NBA, the league and Morey both issued statements on Sunday night addressing the situation without apologizing. But on Monday morning, Rockets guard James Harden offered another message while standing next to his teammate Russell Westbrook.
“We apologize,” Harden said in Tokyo, where the Rockets are playing a preseason game on Tuesday. “We love China. We love playing there. For both of us individually, we go there once or twice a year. They show us the most important love. We appreciate them as a fan base, and we love everything they’re about.”
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