A tweet from Houston Rockets GM supporting Hong Kong protesters had international ramifications for the league
On Oct. 4, 2019, Houston Rockets general manager Darly Morey sent out a tweet in support of Hong Kong protesters who are demanding full democracy, according to the BBC. But his tweet has had serious unexpected ramifications for the NBA in terms of loss in revenue and fan viewership.
According to Time magazine, NBA commissioner Adam Silver has said that the losses have “already been substantial.”
“Our games are not back on the air in China as we speak, and we’ll see what happens next.”
It also happens that the Houston Rockets are arguably one of the most popular NBA teams in China. Thus, the criticism and backlash to the tweet, not only from China, but also from other members of the Rockets organization, was swift.
Morey has since deleted the tweet and apologized, but the controversy continues.
How it started
First, the relationship between the NBA and China needs to be explained.
The NBA, and the sport of basketball, is huge in China. About 300 million people play basketball in China, and there are 20 professional men’s teams located across the country.
An estimated 500 million people watched a single NBA game on Tencent Sports, a streaming service run by the Chinese government that has signed a $1.5-billion partnership with the NBA over the next five years.
It’s common for NBA teams to play pre-season games in China. This year, tickets to a Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets game sold for over $2,500.
China contributes a staggering amount of revenue to the NBA — an estimated $4 billion per year — so it’s clear why the NBA might want to sweep this controversy under the rug.
Free speech or none of his business?
Morey’s tweet is being hailed by some as an expression of free speech in a time where China is trying to stifle it.
“Daryl Morey was right. Whenever you see something wrong going on anywhere in the world, you should have the right to say, ‘That’s not right,’” said former NBA player Shaquille O’Neal.
Death threats and hate tweets to Morey ensued, and as a result, the players and other members on the Rockets have attempted to distance themselves from their GM.
“We apologize. You know, we love China. We love playing there,” Rockets star player James Harden said.
Even the Rockets owner, Tilman Fertitta, denounced his GM’s comments, saying the team’s presence in Asia is about the promotion of the NBA, not politics.
Silver considers the league to be a progressive one. In 2014, he banned the former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers for life and fined him $2.5 million for making racist remarks.
However, in this situation he’s been criticized for rolling over to the authoritarian regime. He told the Wall Street Journal: “We have no choice but to engage and to attempt to have better understanding of other cultures and try to work through issues.”