James Harden, one of the NBA’s biggest stars, apologized to the entire country of China on Monday morning after a tweet by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey created problems for the organization and the league there.
Morey expressed solidarity with Hong Kong in a since-deleted tweet that has stirred controversy and resulted in the team losing sponsorships and TV deals. Morey’s tweet, “Fight For Freedom. Stand With Hong Kong," was in support of the semi-autonomous country while protests continue.
Harden apologizes to China: ‘We love you’
The Rockets are in Tokyo for two preseason games against the Toronto Raptors this week. Harden, with Russell Westbrook by his side during practice, apologized to China and voiced appreciation for the team’s large fan base.
"We apologize. You know, we love China. We love playing there. For both of us individually, we go there once or twice a year. They show us the most important love."
"We appreciate them as a fan base. We love everything there about them, and we appreciate the support that they give us individually and as [an] organization. We love you.”
The Rockets are the most popular NBA team in the country after Yao Ming built his Hall of Fame career in Houston. As a result of the tweet, the Rockets face a massive financial backlash that includes blackouts of games by Chinese rights holders and lost sponsorships.
The NBA released a statement Sunday night sharing regret that Morey’s views have “deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China.” But for its statement in China, the NBA translation read, “Extremely disappointed in Morey's inappropriate statement. No doubt he's severely hurt the feelings of CN fans.”
Morey also released a statement Sunday saying he didn’t mean to offend and the opinion is his, not the organization’s. According to The Ringer, Morey is concerned about friends in Hong Kong as frequently violent protests continue over a bill that would allow extradition of criminal suspects to the main land.
Nets owner, politicians weigh in
Brooklyn Nets and New York Liberty owner Joseph Tsai wrote a long open letter late Sunday describing why the Chinese would be mad at Morey’s tweet and defending the country. He noted that expressing an opinion is an American freedom that the NBA has been “very progressive ... in allowing constituents a platform.”
“The problem is, there are certain topics that are third-rail issues in certain countries, societies and communities.
Supporting a separatist movement in a Chinese territory is one of those third-rail issues, not only for the Chinese government, but also for citizens in China.”
Politicians are also weighing in, showing bipartisian support denouncing the NBA’s statement and alleging the league is being “bullied by an authoritarian government” and prioritizing money over human rights.
Amnesty International has called for an independent investigation of the Hong Kong police, saying its use of force is “clearly excessive, violating international human rights law,” per Time. Protests have been going for more than three months.
The NBA, which has league offices in China, is looking to make headway into foreign markets including China and Japan. The Los Angeles Lakers and star LeBron James will play Tsai’s Nets in Shanghai and Shenzhen this week.
China cancels G League games
The Rockets reportedly lost all Chinese sponsorships as of Sunday and are still facing ramifications from the tweet that extend beyond just their organization. Per Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium, the Chinese Basketball Association canceled the league’s G League exhibition games.
Rio Grande Valley, the Rockets’ affiliate, was set to play the Texas Legends, affiliate of the Dallas Mavericks, later this month before the regular season starts in November.
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