NBA commissioner Adam Silver has responded to the recent furore over Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s tweets on the Hong Kong democracy protests, saying the league would back the right to free expression.
Speaking to Kyodo News, Silver said: “There are the values that have been part of this league from its earliest days, and that includes free expression.”
“I think 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.”
Silver’s comments came as the NBA continued to feel the effect of the controversy. CCTV, the Chinese state broadcaster, said today (Tuesday) that it would “immediately suspend” the broadcast of this week’s pre-season exhibition games in China.
The Houston Rockets and the NBA have also faced a backlash from Chinese commercial partners, the government, sports officials and fans. The Chinese Basketball Association announced on Chinese social media platform Weibo yesterday that they cancelled planned exhibition games between two of the NBA’s G-League teams in response.
Today, the South China Morning Post reported that the NBA cancelled an community event in Shanghai which involved the Brooklyn Nets in Shanghai at short notice, with no explanation offered, and said they would keep media updated on another event tomorrow at the Oriental Sports Centre.
The Nets are scheduled to play back-to-back games against the Los Angeles Lakers in Shanghai on Thursday, and on Saturday in Shenzhen as part of the NBA Global Games, a series of games featuring NBA teams played outside the United States and Canada.
CCTV issued a statement on social media saying that it would not broadcast the two exhibition games.
The broadcaster said: “We believe that any comments that challenge national sovereignty and social stability are not within the scope of freedom of speech.
“To this end, CCTV’s Sports Channel [CCTV-5] has decided to immediately suspend plans to broadcast the NBA preseason [China Games] and will immediately investigate all cooperation and communication involving the NBA.”
The state broadcaster did not specify whether it would suspend any broadcasts of regular-season NBA games.
CCTV had already suspended broadcasts of Rockets matches. Tencent, the NBA’s digital media-rights partner in China, has suspended streaming of Rockets games and offered fans who had bought a pass for access to the games a special offer to switch to another team.
This follows media reports that two of the Rockets’ Chinese sponsors, sportswear brand Li-Ning and SPD Bank, have suspended their work with the team.
Silver said: “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.”
“Not the role of the NBA” to adjudicate different cultural viewpoints
Silver today issued a lengthy follow-up statement, admitting that the initial statement “left people angered, confused or unclear on who we are or what the NBA stands for”.
The statement opened: “Over the last three decades, the NBA has developed a great affinity for the people of China. We have seen how basketball can be an important form of people-to-people exchange that deepens ties between the United States and China.
“At the same time, we recognize that our two countries have different political systems and beliefs. And like many global brands, we bring our business to places with different political systems around the world. But for those who question our motivation, this is about far more than growing our business.”
He cited the “values of equality, respect and freedom of expression have long defined the NBA – and will continue to do so”.
Silver also acknowledged that it “is inevitable that people around the world – including from America and China – will have different viewpoints over different issues. It is not the role of the NBA to adjudicate those differences”.
Maintaining the stress placed on freedom of speech, Silver added that the NBA “will not put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees and team owners say or will not say on these issues.”
Silver said on Monday that the league supported Brooklyn Nets owner and Alibaba co-founder Joseph Tsai, who said in a lengthy Facebook post: “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.
“I hope to help the League to move on from this incident. I will continue to be an outspoken NBA Governor on issues that are important to China.”