ith a single tweet, the Houston Rockets have gone from being perhaps China’s favorite NBA team to its most hated.
Early on Saturday morning, Rockets GM Daryl Morey tweeted out in support of the anti-government, pro-democracy protests Hong Kong, sharing an image that said “Fight for freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.”
While Morey deleted the tweet only a few hours later, the damage was already done. Feelings had been hurt.
Both China’s state broadcaster, CCTV, and Tencent Sports quickly issued statements declaring that they would no longer be broadcasting Rockets games. The NBA recently signed a streaming deal with Tencent worth $1.5 billion over the next five years. The company has said those subscribers who signed up for Rockets game can now choose another team.
The Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) has also announced that it will be suspending all cooperation with the Rockets. The head of the CBA is none other than Yao Ming, the former Houston star who helped the Rockets become one of the most popular NBA teams in China. Last week, the Rockets played the Shanghai Sharks in a preseason game.
Making this whole mess all the more awkward is the timing. The Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles arrive in China to play two preseason games in Shenzhen and Shanghai. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will also be along for the ride.
Meanwhile, Hupu, one of the most popular hubs for discussion among Chinese NBA fans has shut down its Rockets forum completely.
Even the Chinese consulate in Houston has gotten into the act, expressing its “strong dissatisfaction” with the Rockets.
We are deeply shocked by the erroneous comments on Hong Kong made by Mr. Daryl Morey, general manager of the Houston Rockets. We have lodged representations and expressed strong dissatisfaction with the Houston Rockets, and urged the latter to correct the error and take immediate concrete measures to eliminate the adverse impact.
At the moment, ending violence and chaos and restoring order has become the widest common consensus and the strongest appeal of all social sectors in Hong Kong. Anybody with conscience would support the efforts made by the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to safeguard Hong Kong’s social stability.
Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta has attempted to distance his team from Morey’s tweet, declaring that Morey “does NOT speak” for the Rockets.
Listen….@dmorey does NOT speak for the @HoustonRockets. Our presence in Tokyo is all about the promotion of the @NBA internationally and we are NOT a political organization. @espn https://t.co/yNyQFtwTTi
— Tilman Fertitta (@TilmanJFertitta) October 5, 2019
Early on Monday morning, Morey issued his own statement in which he said that he was “merely voicing one thought, based on one interpretation, of one complicated event,” and that he had not meant to offend anyone.
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
The NBA soon released a statement of its own as well:
We recognize that the views expressed by Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey have deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China, which is regrettable. While Daryl has made it clear that his tweet does not represent the Rockets or the NBA, the values of the league support individuals’ educating themselves and 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.
While many in the US felt that this was a rather weak response from the NBA, the statement the NBA posted onto its official Weibo page has drawn additional criticism for appearing to mirror Chinese state media speak and imply that the league itself disagrees with Morey’s views.
“We are deeply disappointed by Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey’s inappropriate comments. He has undoubtedly gravely hurt the feelings of Chinese fans,” reads the NBA’s statement in Chinese.
However, even that statement has not gone over well on Chinese social media with Weibo users calling it a “bullshit apology,” asking that the NBA “ban” the Rockets, and confirm on Twitter that Hong Kong is part of China.
Chinese netizens and bots, meanwhile, have been unleashed on Twitter, brigading posts of all involved with calls for Morey’s firing and the refrain “nmsl” or ni ma si le (你妈死了) meaning “Your mom is dead.”
The controversy has also entered the realm of American politics with politicians on both sides of the aisle taking to social media to condemn the NBA for not standing up more strongly for Morey.
The Chinese government banning the Rockets is a terrible move.
— Andrew Yang🧢 (@AndrewYang) October 6, 2019
It’s clear that the @NBA is more interested in money than human rights. Tonight’s statement from Commissioner Silver is an absolute joke.
— Rick Scott (@SenRickScott) October 7, 2019
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) October 7, 2019
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
While there had been speculation that Morey may be fired for the tweet. It now appears that he will keep his job.