A tweet by Rockets general manager Daryl Morey supporting protestors in Hong Kong is setting off a chain reaction of fallout between the NBA and China. As the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets played two games in Shanghai and Shenzhen in October, China-based media and businesses started to pull their support from the league.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver has already issued two statements clarifying the league’s position on Morey’s tweet. Despite the tweet being almost immediately deleted, Silver stated he “regrets” upsetting people in China but wouldn’t limit free speech for league employees.
The response has not appeased business leaders and the state-run broadcast networks previously set to air the games. What originally started as a backlash focused on the Rockets now threatens to derail the NBA’s strong relationship in China. The Lakers-Nets game went on with no media availability. Now that the players have returned safely to U.S. soil, more athletes are starting to chime in on the international incident caused by Morey’s tweet.
Here’s a running list of the fallout that has come from Morey’s tweet:
China has suspended preseason NBA broadcasts in the country
Chinese state-run broadcast network CCTV has pulled broadcasts of both Nets vs. Lakers games this week. CCTV issued the following statement Tuesday morning:
“We’ve noticed NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s response to the inappropriate remarks by Houston Rockets GM Morey. We are strongly unsatisfied and opposed to Adam Silver’s claim of supporting Morey’s rights of having freedom of speech,” sports channel CCTV5 said Tuesday on its social media page. “We think any remarks that challenge national sovereignty and social stability are outside the category of freedom of speech.”
The network also stated it would “investigate all cooperation and exchanges with the NBA.”
The league currently has a a $1.5 billion streaming deal with Chinese media company Tencent.
Tickets for the Nets-Lakers preseason game have been unavailable online
The Nets and Lakers are set to play in Shanghai at Mercedes-Benz Arena on Thursday. Per the Wall Street Journal, “tickets from the designated online agent for Thursday’s Shanghai game became unavailable.”
Community events are being canceled
The NBA and the Nets were scheduled to dedicate a new Learn and Play Center at a primary school here in Shanghai this afternoon as part of the league’s NBA Cares program - but the event has been canceled by the Education Bureau.— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) October 8, 2019
Chinese celebrities are boycotting the NBA China games
Chinese actors, musicians, and other celebrities are pulling out of their involvement in the NBA China games according to USA Today, though the publication doesn’t name names.
There is no media availability before, during or after Nets vs. Lakers in Shanghai
This is, needless to say, highly unusual.
The Chinese Basketball Association will no longer cooperate with the Rockets
Chinese Basketball Association announced that they will cut off all cooperation with Houston Rockets. Rockets former superstar Yao Ming is the president of CBA. pic.twitter.com/FDviYAQDV3— Yu Fu (@YuFuTroy) October 6, 2019
Brands are halting their relationships with the NBA
When the first Lakers-Nets game tipped off on Tuesday, there were no sponsors to be seen around the games. The floors were even re-finished to remove brand logos that had originally been painted onto the floor.
No corporate logos on the floor tonight - I’m told that after several sponsors pulled out, workers had to re-sand the floors because the original logos had been painted on. pic.twitter.com/OTshOMFqlF— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) October 10, 2019
- Anta Sports Products Ltd., the Chinese shoe brand that sponsors Golden State Warriors star Klay Thompson, is suspending contract negotiations with the NBA after saying it was as shocked as fans by the league’s statement on Morey’s tweet, per the Wall Street Journal.
- Sportswear brand Li-Ning and Shanghai Pudong Development Bank announced they are halting their relationships with the Houston Rockets, according to Reuters. A former Rockets reporter tweeted SPDB would “stop all marketing and promotion activities related to the Rockets.”
SPDB, a Rockets sponsor from China, announced that they will stop all marketing and promotion activities related to Rockets. pic.twitter.com/Lr7b4qvJA6— Yu Fu (@YuFuTroy) October 6, 2019
- Vivo, a Chinese phone company that sponsored the NBA China games, is suspending all cooperation with the league, expressing “strong dissatisfaction and condemnation” against the NBA’s statement on Morey’s tweet, per the Wall Street Journal.
Tencent is blacklisting the Rockets
Tencent, a streaming service with a billion-dollar deal to bring NBA games to people in China, announced it would “suspend all reports/streaming” of Rockets games. The company is now allowing fans to “switch home teams” for those who bought a single-team pass to watch the Rockets.
Rockets gear is disappearing
The NBA store in Beijing has replaced Rockets gear with apparel from other teams, according to the Wall Street Journal. Online retailers have also reportedly pulled the team’s merchandise.
Two fans in Philadelphia with “Free Hong Kong” signs were kicked out of a Sixers game
The Sixers claim they were thrown out because there were “multiple complaints from guests and verbal confrontations with others in attendance.”
A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers has called on the NBA to leave China
An eclectic group of United States lawmakers including Bronx Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz signed a letter to the NBA ripping the league for not standing behind Morey more forcefully and for having a training academy in the heart of Xinjiang province, where China is allegedly holding a million Uighurs in “re-education camps.”
Fans had “Free Hong Kong” signs confiscated at the Wizards vs. Guangzhou Long Lions preseason game
Our “Google Uyghurs” sign has been confiscated. pic.twitter.com/fX4tF4oOxR— Jon Schweppe (@JonSchweppe) October 9, 2019
Fans in D.C. wearing “Free Hong Kong” t-shirts had signs taken from them supporting Hong Kong protestors.
A reporter was shut down from asking James Harden and Russell Westbrook a question about China
Journalist gets quickly shut down when she asked James Harden, Russell Westbrook if they would refrain from speaking out on politics/social justice after China debacle... pic.twitter.com/VkXSWo0N0s— gifdsports (@gifdsports) October 10, 2019
A CNN reporter was interrupted as she asked the Rockets stars who the fallout from this week affects the way they’d talk about China and other political issues. Her question was stopped by an NBA spokesperson and she was told the players would only be answering questions about basketball.
The league later commented that the reporter should have been allowed to ask her question:
Adam Silver held a private meeting with teams in China, where LeBron James urged the league to speak up before the players
Shams Charania detailed the tense hours before the Lakers-Nets games in China in a column at The Athletic. According to Charania, Silver held an open floor meeting where players including LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kyle Kuzma spoke up on the issue:
Lakers star LeBron James spoke up in front of everyone in the room and stated he believed that Silver and the NBA needed to explain and articulate the situation first, before the players would have to, multiple sources with direct knowledge of the meeting told The Athletic. James expressed concern that without the league being able to speak to media to address all of the questions and dynamics about China and the NBA, it was unfair for solely players to bear that responsibility.
“Adam deserves a lot of credit because instead of forcing these players in front of cameras in China, he worked with everyone in the room and heard them out,” one person involved in the meeting said.
LeBron James issued a statement on the situation ... and then clarified what he meant with two tweets
Once the Lakers returned to American soil, reporters asked James about the issue before a preseason game against the Warriors. You can watch James’ full comments here:
LeBron James on if Daryl Morey should be reprimanded for his tweet pic.twitter.com/6hCE8vCyNn— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) October 15, 2019
Minutes after speaking to the media, James tweeted two clarifying statements:
Let me clear up the confusion. I do not believe there was any consideration for the consequences and ramifications of the tweet. I’m not discussing the substance. Others can talk About that.— LeBron James (@KingJames) October 15, 2019
My team and this league just went through a difficult week. I think people need to understand what a tweet or statement can do to others. And I believe nobody stopped and considered what would happen. Could have waited a week to send it.— LeBron James (@KingJames) October 15, 2019
Enes Kanter tweeted a statement on the situation
-Haven’t seen or talked to my family 5 years— Enes Kanter (@EnesKanter) October 15, 2019
-Jailed my dad
-My siblings can’t find jobs
-Revoked my passport
-International arrest warrant
-My family can’t leave the country
-Got Death Threats everyday
-Got attacked, harassed
-Tried to kidnap me in Indonesia
FREEDOM IS NOT FREE
Kanter is a native of Turkey and has been an outspoken critic of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who has seen major consequences for his free speech.
Chinese state TV did not air the NBA’s opening night games. Tencent only aired Lakers-Clippers
CCTV chose not to air the NBA’s opening night games of the regular season as it typically does, according to ESPN. Tencent opted to air the Clippers vs. Lakers nightcap, but not the Pelicans vs. Raptors opening game.
Shaq: “Daryl Morey was right.”
Shaq to China: "We’re going to say whatever we want to say, when we want to say it."pic.twitter.com/CBQWHfszhp— Ryan Saavedra (@RealSaavedra) October 23, 2019
Shaquille O’Neal supported Morey’s right to free speech during TNT’s pregame show on the opening night of the regular season.