Adam Silver says NBA ready to accept consequences of 'adhering to our values' in China conflict

With the enormous stakes surrounding the NBA’s China mess, commissioner Adam Silver issued another statement Tuesday as the league tries to appease an angry and lucrative overseas constituent while espousing core American values.

Silver’s statement arrives as China’s state-run CCTV announced that it would not air a pair of preseason games between the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets taking place in China later this week as part of the country’s continued backlash to Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, who tweeted support for Hong Kong protestors in their conflict with state government.

‘Important we adhere to those values’

Silver told reporters in Tokyo ahead of a preseason game in Japan between the Toronto Raptors and Houston Rockets that he intends to travel to China for Thursday’s game and to meet with officials in an attempt to resolve the issue.

“I think it’s unfortunate,” Silver said of the broadcasts of the games being canceled. “But if that’s the consequences of us adhering to our values, we still feel it’s critically important we adhere to those values.

“It’s my hope that when I’m in Shanghai, I can meet with the appropriate officials and discuss where we stand and again put those remarks from Daryl Morey and my remarks in an appropriate context of a many-decades-long relationship and see if we can find mutual respect for each other’s political systems and beliefs.”

China issued strong rebuke of Silver, free speech

Silver’s remarks Tuesday were accompanied by a formal written statement and are the latest in his and the league’s attempt to navigate salvaging a relationship with the Communist nation’s threats to cut off NBA access to its 1.4 billion citizens through state-run media alongside maintaining American values of free speech.

CCTV announced the cancelation of game broadcasts alongside a statement condemning Silver’s previous remarks defending Morey’s freedom of expression.

“We are strongly dissatisfied and we oppose Silver’s claim to support Morey’s right of free expression, the announcement read, per CNBC translation. “We believe that any speech that challenges national sovereignty and social stability is not within the scope of freedom of speech.”

Adam Silver continued to navigate the NBA's China conflict as state-run media pulled NBA games from its airwaves. (Getty)
Adam Silver continued to navigate the NBA's China conflict as state-run media pulled NBA games from its airwaves. (Getty)

CCTV demands apology from Morey

Silver’s latest statement coincides with a demand from CCTV that Morey apologize for his now-deleted tweet that read “Fight For Freedom. Stand With Hong Kong.”

“Hong Kong is part of China's internal affairs which would tolerate no foreign meddling,” the CCTV statement reads, while describing Hong Kong protestors as “rioters.” “Morey and Houston Rockets need to offer a sincere apology to the Chinese public. It would be unwise for any individual to underestimate 1.4 billion Chinese people's readiness to defend their national sovereignty and dignity.”

The NBA’s initial statement characterized Morey’s tweet as “regrettable” and noted that his words don’trepresent the Rockets or the NBA.” It drew intense backlash from both sides of the U.S. political aisle for the league’s apparent stance in prioritizing its financial interests over human rights and Morey’s ability to speak freely.

Meanwhile, normally outspoken NBA figures like Steve Kerr and LeBron James have remained silent on the issue.

Silver: NBA won’t regulate speech

Silver’s formal statement Tuesday attempted to appease those concerns, clarifying that “the NBA will not put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees and team owners say or will not say on these issues.”

It can be read in full below:

I recognize our initial statement left people angered, confused or unclear on who we are or what the NBA stands for. Let me be more clear.

Over the last three decades, the NBA has developed a great affinity for the people of China. We have seen how basketball can be an important form of people-to-people exchange that deepens ties between the United States and China.

At the same time, we recognize that our two countries have different political systems and beliefs. And like many global brands, we bring our business to places with different political systems around the world.

But for those who question our motivation, this is about far more than growing our business.

Values of equality, respect and freedom of expression have long defined the NBA -- and will continue to do so. As an American-based basketball league operating globally, among our greatest contributions are these values of the game.

In fact, one of the enduring strengths of the NBA is our diversity -- of views, backgrounds, ethnicities, genders and religions. Twenty-five percent of NBA players were born outside of the United States and our colleagues work in league offices around the world, including in Beijing, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Taipei.

With that diversity comes the belief that whatever our differences, we respect and value each other; and, what we have in common, including a belief in the power of sports to make a difference, remains our bedrock principle.

It is inevitable that people around the world -- including from America and China -- will have different viewpoints over different issues. It is not the role of the NBA to adjudicate those differences.

However, the NBA will not put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees and team owners say or will not say on these issues. We simply could not operate that way.

Basketball runs deep in the hearts and minds of our two peoples. At a time when divides between nations grow deeper and wider, we believe sports can be a unifying force that focuses on what we have in common as human beings rather than our differences.

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