NBA, Silver Try To Mitigate Damage In China Following Morey's Tweet
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver today indicated that the league backs Rockets GM Daryl Morey's "right to speak his mind on the Hong Kong protest issue, without endorsing what he said," according to Joel Fitzpatrick of KYODO NEWS. Silver "acknowledged the damage Morey's tweet in support of the Hong Kong protest movement had caused the NBA's brand in China." He said, "The economic impact is already clear. There have already been fairly dramatic consequences from that tweet, and I have read some of the media suggesting that we are not supporting Daryl Morey, but in fact we have." He added, "As a values-based organization that I want to make it clear ... that Daryl Morey is supported in terms of his ability to exercise his freedom of expression." Fitzpatrick notes as the Morey "furor continued to rumble through NBA circles and elsewhere," Nets Owner Joe Tsai "released a statement which Silver called 'a fairly lengthy explanation from his standpoint on why (Morey's) words are so hurtful to Chinese fans.'" Silver said he is "also supporting" Tsai and realizes these are "complex issues that don't lend themselves easily to social media." Silver: "I can't ultimately run the NBA based on trying to satisfy everyone on Twitter." Silver was "resolute in his organization's position that members of the NBA community are free to express themselves and the league backs their right to do so." He said, "There are the values that have been part of this league from its earliest days, and that includes free expression. I accept that it is also Chinese governments' and Chinese businesses' right to react to those words and, at least from my long-time experience in the NBA, it will take some time to heal some of these issues" (KYODO NEWS, 10/7).
JOE TSAI SPEAKS OUT: Tsai, the first majority team owner of Chinese descent in NBA history, last night posted an open letter on his Facebook feed in which he wrote thedamage from Morey’s tweet “will take a long time to repair.” He wrote, "When I bought controlling interest in the Brooklyn Nets in September, I didn’t expect my first public communication with our fans would be to comment on something as politically charged and grossly misunderstood as the way hundreds of millions of Chinese NBA fans feel about what just happened. ... 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 this incident has caused will take a long time to repair" (N.Y. POST, 10/7).
CHINA CUTTING ROCKETS' TIES: Morey in a tweet this morning wrote, "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." He added, "My tweets are my own and in no way represent the Rockets or the NBA." In Hong Kong, Mark Agnew notes Morey's latest comments come after a "backlash from sponsors and organisers." The Rockets have "more ties to China than most NBA teams" due to Basketball HOFer Yao Ming's tenure with the team. Following Morey's initial post on Friday, which he later deleted, the Chinese Basketball Association, which is chaired by Yao; sportswear brand Li-Ning; Tencent's online sports channel; and Shanghai Pudong Development Bank, which all sponsor the team, "said they would cease to cooperate with the Rockets." CCTV Sports also will "halt broadcasting the team's games" (SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST, 10/7). Meanwhile, The Athletic's Shams Charania cites sources as saying that the CBA "has canceled" scheduled NBA G League exhibition games between the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, the Rockets' affiliate, and Mavericks affiliate, the Texas Legends, set for later this month in China (TWITTER.com, 10/7).
DAMAGE CONTROL: NBA Exec VP/Communications Mike Bass in a statement said the league recognizes that Morey's initial tweet "deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China, which is regrettable." He added the league supports individuals "sharing their views on matters important to them." The AP wrote the timing of this controversy is "particularly awkward for the NBA, whose players have often been outspoken on social issues" in the U.S. Rockets G James Harden was "contrite as he spoke" during a practice in Tokyo this morning. Harden: "We apologize. You know, we love China, we love playing there" (AP, 10/6). BLOOMBERG NEWS' Wallbank & Cang noted the NBA "tried to limit the damage" with its statement. In the Chinese version of the NBA statement, the league "added a further comment: 'We are deeply disappointed about Morey's inappropriate comment and he undoubtedly has hurt Chinese fans' feelings severely.'" The NBA's response "echoed the cautious approach other companies have been taking in an effort not to offend China" (BLOOMBERG NEWS, 10/6). The AP wrote it "wasn't immediately clear if Morey's new tweets or the NBA's statement that followed would be enough to salvage those relationships." The Chinese government's consulate office in Houston "issued a statement saying it 'expressed strong dissatisfaction' with the team." This controversy "underscores Beijing's extreme sensitivity about foreign attitudes toward the ongoing protests and increasing violence." China "accuses foreign parties in the U.S. and elsewhere of encouraging the demonstrations" (AP, 10/6).
UNFORTUNATE TIMING: USA TODAY's Jeff Zillgitt noted this controversy "comes at a time when the NBA is showcasing its product in Asia." The Rockets and Raptors will play two games in Tokyo tomorrow and Thursday, and the Lakers and Nets will play two games in China on Thursday and Saturday (USA TODAY, 10/6). Silver and the league's top brass were "dealing with the crisis" while in Japan before traveling to China. The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Ben Cohen writes the "rapidly unfolding series of events over the weekend pits democratic ideals against the influence of foreign money in a high-profile example of the difficulties American companies encounter when dealing with businesses in authoritarian China." It is "already the most sensitive political situation" that Silver has faced in his five years as commissioner (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 10/7).