BEIJING: China denied on Friday (Oct 18) that it demanded that the NBA fire a Houston Rockets executive over a tweet supporting protesters in Hong Kong.
Rockets general manager Daryl Morey ignited a firestorm earlier this month with a tweeted image captioned “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.”
It came right before the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets arrived in China for what proved to be a tense two-game exhibition tour, with broadcasters refusing to air the games and local sponsors cutting ties with the NBA.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver said Thursday that the basketball league was also “being asked to fire him (Morey) by the Chinese government, by the parties we dealt with, government and business”.
“We said there’s no chance that’s happening,” said Silver, who has previously stated the league would not apologize for Morey expressing his freedom of expression. “There’s no chance we’ll even discipline him.”
Asked whether Beijing pressured the NBA to fire Morey, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters in Beijing on Friday: “The Chinese government has never raised these kinds of demands.”
FINANCIAL CONSEQUENCES “DRAMATIC”
NBA commissioner Adam Silver said on Thursday that the fallout from the tweet has already cost the league substantial financial losses in China.
“I felt we had made enormous progress in terms of building cultural exchanges with the Chinese people. And, again, I have regret that much of that was lost,” Silver said at the Time 100 Health Summit in New York.
“And I’m not even sure where we’ll go from here, but the direct answer to your question is the financial consequences have been and may continue to be fairly dramatic.”
In the aftermath of Morey’s tweet, China did not broadcast or stream the two preseason games that were held in the country between the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets while the NBA canceled many player appearances.
Corporate partners in the country have also scrapped or suspended relations with the league.
“Our games are not back on the air in China as we speak,” Silver said in his first public appearance since returning from his recent trip to Asia.
Since the row began, the NBA has found itself under pressure from US politicians and media outlets who have urged the league not to buckle under Chinese criticism, or even to withdraw from the Chinese market completely.
“I understand there’s a point of view from some that we shouldn’t be in business at all in China and I’d say from an intellectual standpoint that’s fair,” Silver said.
“But if people believe we shouldn’t be engaged in commerce in China … I look to the American government.”
“Many multi-national corporations trade extensively with China and if that’s ultimately how our government feels we should be dealing with China, again, we’re a US company.”
But Silver said he feared the NBA’s 15-year effort to build cultural ties with China and expand the game’s reach there had been undermined by the Morey dispute.
“I felt we had made enormous progress in terms of building cultural exchanges with the Chinese people,” Silver said.
“I have regret that much of that was lost.”