Daryl Morey responds to Chinese backlash as Rockets, NBA back away from GM's pro-Hong Kong tweet

As China’s backlash to Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s tweet in support of a free Hong Kong continues, the man who sparked it has publicly addressed the situation.

Morey tweeted a statement Sunday saying he didn’t intend to offend Chinese fans and sponsors and that his opinion on Hong Kong is his and his alone, echoing Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta’s attempts to distance Morey’s statement from the team’s bottom line.

Nowhere in the statement does Morey outright apologize, but it is clearly meant to at least partially douse a fire that has already cost the Rockets a fortune in China.

Rockets star James Harden also issued a public apology during the team’s exhibition tour in Japan. From AFP:

"We apologize. We love China," he said, standing alongside fellow Rockets guard Russell Westbrook.

"We love playing there. Both of us, we go there once or twice a year. They show us most support so we appreciate them."

How Daryl Morey and the Rockets got here

This situation began when Morey tweeted a graphic on Friday night reading "Fight For Freedom. Stand With Hong Kong."

Per The Ringer, Morey was concerned about the safety of his friends in Hong Kong as protests rage in the city, a special administrative region of China, over a proposed (and since pulled) bill that would have allowed for the extradition of criminal suspects to the mainland. Conflicts between protesters and police have frequently become violent.

Morey’s tweet, as well as some others of his, was instantly hit by a torrent of replies from Chinese users angry that the GM voiced any support for Hong Kong protesters.

Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey discusses the direction of the team with the media during a basketball news conference, Tuesday, April 19, 2011, in Houston, after the decision to part ways with NBA basketball head coach Rick Adelman. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
With one tweet, Daryl Morey has created an overseas firestorm for the NBA. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

The Rockets have been one of the most popular teams in China going back to the days of Yao Ming, so the negative reaction to Morey caused Fertitta to quickly insist the tweet wasn’t a political statement from the team.

Those efforts didn’t stop what happened next.

Like the country does with most political dissent, Chinese basketball and media organizations have responded to Morey’s tweet by trying to erase the Rockets from the country. The Chinese Basketball Association and Tencent, the NBA’s digital rights-holder in China, blocked Rockets broadcasts in the country, while the Rockets’ Chinese sponsors have been cutting ties with the team en masse.

NBA releases statement on Morey

Minutes after Morey’s statement, the NBA released its own statement denouncing any offense caused by Morey in China. Like with Fertitta and the Rockets, the league — which clearly fears losing its inroads with the very lucrative Chinese market — attempted to isolate the backlash to Morey.

The statement was later condemned by U.S. politicians on both sides of the aisle as a “blatant prioritization of profits over human rights,” according to Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke.

Funnily enough, the league effectively released a different statement for Chinese ears, give Morey’s tweet a much harsher treatment.

NBA spokesman Mike Bass later told The New York Times’ Sopan Deb that there should be no discrepancy between the NBA’s statements in English and Mandarin, and that the English statement is the league’s official stance.

Is Daryl Morey’s job safe?

Conflicting reports have emerged about Morey possibly seeing discipline over the tweet.

John Gonzalez of The Ringer reported that team ownership have debated replacing Morey as general manager, but that report was soon refuted by Sam Amick of The Athletic and Marc Stein of The New York Times, who tweeted there are no plans for the Rockets to discipline Morey. Shams Charania of The Athletic has also reported that the NBA will not discipline Morey.

Morey has long been considered one of the most successful general managers in the game, well-known for overseeing a stats-focused run of contending teams with Harden running things on the floor. It’s hard to part with an executive as well-respected as Morey, but all bets could be off if the Rockets think their bottom line is in significant danger.

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