Adam Silver and the NBA are apparently standing by Daryl Morey despite outrage in China over a tweet he sent out and has since deleted. Morey, the Houston Rockets general manager, has never been shy about speaking out about political or personal issues on social media, but over the weekend it put his team and the NBA in general in an awkward position when he supported protesters in Hong Kong in a tweet. The notion itself in the United States isn’t all that inflammatory, but to the communist Chinese government and those that support it, the tweet immediately put a strain on the financial relationship between the NBA, the Rockets and the Chinese Basketball Association.
The latter’s call for an apology, led by former Rockets star Yao Ming, also brought the suspension of the relationship between the CBA and NBA, including some cancelled exhibition games between the Chinese and two NBA G League teams. Morey has since apologized and the Rockets distanced the thoughts of their general manager with the official stance of their franchise, but the NBA had mostly remained silent on the issue until Monday.
Speaking in Japan ahead of some NBA preseason games there, Silver spoke to reporters and said the league is supporting Morey’s right to free speech despite the “fairly dramatic” economic consequences the tweet has already caused the league and the Rockets.
[via Kyodo News]
“There is no doubt, the economic impact is already clear,” he said. “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.”
“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 has been supportive of athletes speaking out about divisive political issues in the United States, including athletes like LeBron James and Steph Curry being critical of Donald Trump. But Morey’s tweet almost immediately damaged the business relationship the NBA has with China, which it certainly values as the league makes its international expansion. New Nets owner Joe Tsai released a critical statement of Morey on Sunday that Silver said was a “a fairly lengthy explanation from his standpoint on why his words are so hurtful to Chinese fans.”
Silver is, in essence, trying to navigate the fine line between supporting Morey’s right to free speech while also keeping communist business partners happy, which is certainly no easy task. But it speaks to the difficulties of these types of endeavors and the politics involved. Morey’s own moral stance may not be a surprise in America, but it created an international outrage abroad.
“What I am supporting is his freedom of political expression in this situation,” he said.
“I am also supporting Joe Tsai. I realize, as I said again, these are complex issues they don’t lend themselves easily to social media. I can’t ultimately run the NBA based on trying to satisfy everyone on Twitter.”
“For those who choose also to engage, they’ll see that we are dealing with a complex set of issues. And I will just add that the fact that we have apologized to fans in China is not inconsistent with supporting someone’s right to have a point of view.”
Silver’s statements mean it’s unlikely Morey sees any punishment for his tweet, which was already announced by the Rockets as the situation unfolded over the weekend. But it’s unclear if the NBA’s stance on Morey and the various apologies to the Chinese are enough to repair things just yet.