Rockets star James Harden wants nothing to do with the NBA’s dispute with China

Ryan YoungYahoo Sports Contributor

While it seems everyone has their take on the NBA’s controversy with China, James Harden is steering clear.

Harden — whose team and general manager are at the heart of the issue — insisted Sunday that he’s just focused on the season.

“I’m staying out of it,” Harden said. “I’m focusing on what we have and trying to get better. We’re a week and a half away from the regular season.”

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Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted his support for the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong earlier this month, which set off a massive chain of events in the hours and days that followed. The Rockets quickly distanced themselves from the tweet, and the NBA struggled in its response while trying to please everybody. China quickly cut ties and started a media boycott of the Rockets, something that could cost the team $25 million this season.

Things weren’t any better while NBA teams were holding exhibition games in Asia, either. The league cancelled all media availability near the end of the trip — something it said it decided without China’s input. A Rockets staff member even awkwardly shut down a question directed at Harden on the incident while the team was in Japan, which the NBA has since apologized for.

While things appear to be slowing down in the international controversy, it has brought unlikely sides together on the issue.

Politicians on both sides of the isle have slammed the league for its initial response to Morey’s tweet, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Sen. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). Secretary of State Mike Pompeo even got in on the action. Outspoken NBA coaches Gregg Popovich and Steve Kerr delved into the topic repeatedly, too — which, naturally, sparked yet another feud with President Donald Trump.

The Rockets will officially open their season on Oct. 24 when they host the Milwaukee Bucks. Clearly, they want to finish the preseason as quietly as possible with the China controversy in their rearview mirror.

Even with seemingly the entire world tuned in after the simple tweet, Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni is confident his players can get past it.

“It’s a distraction,” D’Antoni said, via USA Today. “But guys can handle it. We still got good work in. Everything’s fine. It happens. It’s regrettable that it happened, but as I said, our work will get done.”

James Harden #13 of Houston Rockets looks on during the preseason game against the Toronto Raptors. (Getty Images)
James Harden #13 of Houston Rockets looks on during the preseason game against the Toronto Raptors. (Getty Images)

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