Figures from both major U.S. political parties on Sunday criticized the NBA's response to a comment by Rockets general manager Daryl Morey supporting pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong against the Chinese government.
The league appeared to take China's side in its statement. It said it recognized that Morey's tweet Friday — "Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong" — "have deeply offended many of our fans and friends in China, which is regrettable." (Full release per Tim McMahon of ESPN.)
That stance elicited a largely negative response on Twitter. The primary claim: The NBA is more concerned with protecting its business interests in communist mainland China than it is in supporting democracy in the region. Some of the harshest responses came from lawmakers who represent, or have represented, Texas.
A small sample of the bipartisan backlash:
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas
As a lifelong @HoustonRockets fan, I was proud to see @dmorey call out the Chinese Communist Party’s repressive treatment of protestors in Hong Kong.
Now, in pursuit of big $$, the @nba is shamefully retreating. https://t.co/7waMde5KrM
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) October 7, 2019
Democratic presidential candidate Julian Castro of Texas
China is using its economic power to silence critics—even those in the U.S.
The United States must lead with our values and speak out for pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong, and not allow American citizens to be bullied by an authoritarian government. https://t.co/87U4jgsAAp
— Julián Castro (@JulianCastro) October 7, 2019
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R- Texas
Julián, glad to agree with you on this one. https://t.co/0V7PHY1iIW
— Senator John Cornyn (@JohnCornyn) October 7, 2019
Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke of Texas
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
U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo.
Chinese govt has a million people locked in concentration camps & is trying to brutally repress Hong Kong demonstrators - and NBA wants to “bridge cultural divides”? Cultural divides? https://t.co/d6jXQOzb5F
— Josh Hawley (@HawleyMO) October 7, 2019
U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla.
It’s clear that the @NBA is more interested in money than human rights. Tonight’s statement from Commissioner Silver is an absolute joke.
The NBA is kowtowing to Beijing to protect their bottom line and disavowing those with the temerity to #standwithHongKong. Shameful! https://t.co/RBPJa04xzK
— Rick Scott (@SenRickScott) October 7, 2019
U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii
This is a mistake that they should fix quickly. https://t.co/qNmKNTdksV
— Brian Schatz (@brianschatz) October 7, 2019
Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., who has suspended his 2020 presidential campaign
Listen....some things are more important than money. Like doing the right thing. @dmorey tweeted about human rights and supporting #HongKongProtests. How ironic that you’re siding with communism to advance your greed. https://t.co/RoyJ3o3bbY
— Rep. Eric Swalwell (@RepSwalwell) October 7, 2019
Morey on Sunday tried to walk back the since-deleted tweet he sent from Tokyo, where the Rockets are playing two exhibitions.
1/ I did not intend my tweet to cause any offense to Rockets fans and friends of mine in China. 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.
— Daryl Morey (@dmorey) October 7, 2019
2/ 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.
— Daryl Morey (@dmorey) October 7, 2019
Rockets team owner Tilman Fertitta tweeted Friday that Morey "does not speak for" the team and that the Rockets "are NOT a political organization." (Emphasis Fertitta's.) There were conflicting reports Sunday whether Fertitta was considering firing Morey.
Chinese sponsors pulled their money from the [Rockets], Chinese broadcast partners said they wouldn't air Rockets games and the Chinese Basketball Association suspended its ties with one of the NBA's best teams.
The NBA is using its 2019 preseason to promote itself further in the country. The Rockets hosted the CBA's Shanghai Sharks in an exhibition on Sept. 30, the Clippers played the Sharks in Honolulu on Sunday, and the Lakers and Nets are going to China this week to play each other Thursday in Shanghai and Saturday in Shenzen.
The Nets are owned by Chinese billionaire Joseph Tsai, who criticized Morey's original tweet in a lengthy Facebook post late Sunday. He tried to put the angry responses within China in the context of decades of foreign occupation of Hong Kong and the mainland.
Tsai wrote, in part:
When the topic of any separatist movement comes up, Chinese people feel a strong sense of shame and anger because of this history of foreign occupation. By now I hope you can begin to understand why the Daryl Morey tweet is so damaging to the relationship with our fans in China.
I don’t know Daryl personally. I am sure he’s a fine NBA general manager, and I will take at face value his subsequent apology that he was not as well informed as he should have been. But the hurt that this incident has caused will take a long time to repair.
There were also accusations Sunday in conservative and right-leaning circles that the league was being hypocritical for appearing to want to suppress pro-democracy commentary while allowing players and coaches to advocate for social justice, in particular racial justice, which some people in those circles consider a left-wing cause.