According to basketball legend LeBron James, Houston Rockets general manager, Daryl Morey, was “misinformed” when he weighed in on the Hong Kong protests on Twitter, showing support for the Hong Kong freedom fighters.
While Morey may not have realized how big the bear he was poking with that tweet is, LeBron James is wrong about his intentions.
Morey, unlike the National Basketball Association (NBA), had the integrity to tell the truth.
If you’re confused about what American basketball has to do with the political turmoil between Hong Kong and China, you’re not alone. The debacle broke out on Oct. 4, when Morey tweeted a since-deleted image that read “Fight for Freedom, stand with Hong Kong.”
The owner of the Rockets, Tilman Fertitta, quickly shot down this pro-democracy sentiment, tweeting that Morey’s views don’t represent those of the Houston Rockets.
Listen….@dmorey does NOT speak for the @HoustonRockets. Our presence in Tokyo is all about the promotion of the @NBA internationally and we are NOT a political organization. @espn https://t.co/yNyQFtwTTi
— Tilman Fertitta (@TilmanJFertitta) October 5, 2019
China’s consulate-general in Houston released a statement the following Sunday asking the team to clarify and correct what it deemed an erroneous statement. There are rumours that Chinese officials also called for Morey’s resignation, but they deny these claims.
What’s more, Yao Ming, chair of the Chinese Basketball Association and former Rockets player, also denounced Morey and suspended all cooperation between the Chinese association and the team. Ming is one of the biggest superstars in NBA history, who helped popularize basketball in China and attracted Chinese basketball fans to the Rockets.
On Oct. 6, the NBA released their statement: “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.” Morey was also forced to issue an apology to Chinese fans.
The forced apology drew sharp criticism from many, including US politicians Ted Cruz and Beto O’Rourke, as it was seen as a failure by the NBA to stand up for the human rights of Hong Kong’s citizens by siding instead with the Chinese government.
However, the Chinese translation of the NBA’s statement is even harsher, apologizing for Morey’s “inappropriate” tweet that “severely hurt the feelings of Chinese fans.”
In addition, Tencent, the company which streams NBA games in China to an audience of about 500 million, decided to stop showing Houston Rockets games. Various Chinese-affiliated sponsors of the team also pulled out.
Likewise, China is currently no longer broadcasting or streaming anyNBA games. This is a huge financial loss for both the Houston Rockets and for the NBA.
Like the NBA, LeBron James and his brand partners have financial interests in the Chinese market, where the athlete is very popular amongst basketball fans. Many see this as the reason he chose to also speak out against Morey’s tweet.
However, in retaliation to LeBron James’ statement siding with the Chinese government, protestors in Hong Kong are burning his jerseys and posting the videos online.
The NBA claims it’s not bending to the Chinese government, but merely mending its relationship with upset Chinese fans. This is not the truth.
The anti-Hong Kong sentiment existing among Chinese people is the result of a censorship and propaganda campaign by China’s government. The campaign mischaracterizes protestors as foreign-backed separatists, rather than what they are: people standing up for their threatened freedom and democracy.
It’s a shame that the NBA and LeBron James have chosen to protect their financial interests in China’s massive market instead of standing up for the democratic values they are privileged to have in the United States. Furthermore, it’s a shame that Daryl Morey was forced to back down when all he did was speak the truth.
We must be free to speak and express ourselves how we want. In doing so, we cannot allow China’s censors to extend to North America.
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