Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey has tried to defuse the rapidly growing fallout over his deleted tweet that showed support for Hong Kong anti-government protesters, saying he did not intend to offend any of the team’s Chinese fans or sponsors.
A short time after Morey posted that statement, the NBA said it was “regrettable” that the deleted tweet offended many in China. That followed several companies in China, including some of the NBA’s major business partners there, lashing out over Morey’s original tweet.
The uproar started when Morey tweeted an image that read: “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.” The Morey tweet referred to the four-month old protest movement that has upturned the semi-autonomous Chinese territory. That led to Houston owner Tilman Fertitta turning to Twitter to say that Morey does not speak for the Rockets, and sparking an outcry that included the Chinese Basketball Association, whose president is former Rockets center Yao Ming, saying it was suspending its relationship with the team.
Other criticism came from Tencent, a major media partner of the NBA in China with a streaming deal that is worth $1.5bn over the next five years, and Chinese state television both of which said they would not be showing Rockets games. It wasn’t immediately clear if Morey’s new tweets or the NBA’s statement that followed would be enough to salvage those relationships. Chinese athletic apparel maker Li-Ning also released a statement saying it was upset with Morey’s tweet.
“I did not intend my tweet to cause any offense to Rockets fans and friends of mine in China,” Morey tweeted early Monday from Japan, where Houston is playing this week. “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.
“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. My tweets are my own and in no way represent the Rockets or the NBA.”
NBA chief communications officer Mike Bass said the league recognises that Morey’s tweet “deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China, which is regrettable.” Bass added that the league supports individuals “sharing their views on matters important to them.”
“We have great respect for the history and culture of China and hope that sports and the NBA can be used as a unifying force to bridge cultural divides and bring people together,” Bass said.
The timing of this is particularly awkward for the NBA. China has teams in the US playing preseason games this week and fostering strong relationships with China has been a priority of the NBA for at least three decades.
The NBA has a China office, just announced plans to add a gaming team in Shanghai to the NBA 2K League, and officials in both countries say as many as 500m Chinese watched at least one NBA game last season. Several NBA players, including major current and former stars like Stephen Curry and Kobe Bryant, go to China annually to promote their individual brands, and the World Cup held in China earlier this summer saw countless fans attending in NBA jerseys.
The Rockets, largely because of Yao, have an enormous Chinese following. But after Morey’s tweet, even the Chinese government’s consulate office in Houston issued a statement saying it “expressed strong dissatisfaction” with the team.