NBA’s response to Daryl Morey’s Hong Kong tweet draws scorn from U.S. politicians

Figures from both major U.S. political parties on Sunday criticized the NBA’s response to a comment by Rockets general manager Daryl Morey supporting pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong against the Chinese government.

The league appeared to take China’s side in its statement. It said it recognized that Morey’s tweet Friday — “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong” — “have deeply offended many of our fans and friends in China, which is regrettable.” (Full release per Tim McMahon of ESPN.)

That stance elicited a largely negative response on Twitter. The primary claim: The NBA is more concerned with protecting its business interests in communist mainland China than it is in supporting democracy in the region. Some of the harshest responses came from lawmakers who represent, or have represented, Texas.

A small sample of the bipartisan backlash:

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas

Democratic presidential candidate Julian Castro of Texas

Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke of Texas

U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo.

U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla.

Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif.

Morey on Sunday tried to walk back the since-deleted tweet he sent from Tokyo, where the Rockets played two exhibitions. 

Rockets team owner Tilman Fertitta tweeted Friday that Morey “does not speak for” the team and that the Rockets “are NOT a political organization.” (Emphasis Fertitta’s.) There were conflicting reports Sunday whether Fertitta was considering firing Morey.

The Rockets’ and the league’s substantial business ties to China may be in jeopardy, at least temporarily and in a limited way, after a series of retaliatory moves. Per The Wall Street Journal:

Chinese sponsors pulled their money from the [Rockets], Chinese broadcast partners said they wouldn’t air Rockets games and the Chinese Basketball Association suspended its ties with one of the NBA’s best teams.

The NBA is using its 2019 preseason to promote itself further in the country. The Rockets hosted the CBA’s Shanghai Sharks in an exhibition on Sept. 30, the Clippers played the Sharks in Honolulu on Sunday, and the Lakers and Nets are going to China this week to play each other Thursday in Shanghai and Saturday in Shenzen.

The Nets are owned by Chinese billionaire Joseph Tsai, who criticized Morey’s original tweet in a lengthy Facebook post late Sunday. He tried to put the angry responses within China in the context of decades of foreign occupation of Hong Kong and the mainland.

Tsai wrote, in part:

When the topic of any separatist movement comes up, Chinese people feel a strong sense of shame and anger because of this history of foreign occupation. 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.

There were also accusations Sunday in conservative and right-leaning circles that the league was being hypocritical for appearing to want to suppress pro-democracy commentary while allowing players and coaches to advocate for social justice, in particular racial justice, which some people in those circles consider a left-wing cause.

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