The NBA’s preseason Asian tour got off to a bumpy start when Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted out support for Hong Kong.
In a now-deleted tweet, Morey said: "Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong."
According to ESPN, the comments sparked controversy given the state of unrest in Hong Kong over proposed legislation, the Fugitive Offenders Amendment Bill.
Rockets MVP James Harden and teammate Russel Westbrook spoke to the media at practice on Monday (October 7th) in Tokyo, and offered an apology to Chinese fans.
"We apologize. You know, we love China. We love playing there," Harden said. "For both of us individually, we go there once or twice a year. They show us the most important love."
This is a precarious situation for the NBA, as China represents a huge portion of the league’s fan base.
Under former commissioner David Stern, growing the game globally was a mandate, and the Asian markets have been critical to that success.
Commissioner Adam Silver has picked up the baton and the league’s popularity and revenue has soared to unimaginable heights internationally.
Morey making comments regarding an international political issue has serious stakes for the NBA’s business overseas.
The Houston Rockets are the most popular NBA team in China due to former Rockets star, now head of the Chinese Basketball Association, Yao Ming.
The CBA said it would suspend cooperation with the Rockets.
In a statement, Yao referred to Morey’s tweet as, “improper remarks regarding Hong Kong" to which the Association expressed its "strong opposition."
The NBA issued a statement saying:
"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."
The NBA has long shared the unofficial moniker as the “most progressive” of the major American sports leagues. While that’s true, this is a tough spot for the league.
As a league, its primary objective is to make money and put a product out that entertains its fan base. Allowing its players, coaches and other personnel to speak on issues that matter to them is important. But what happens if it impacts that primary objective?
It will be interesting to watch the NBA and how it moves going forward. Stay tuned.
(Photo: Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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