Why it’s time for Daryl Morey to talk

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NEW YORK — It’s time for Daryl Morey to come out of hiding, step forward and account for the storm he created a month ago.

Morey’s tweet in support of Hong Kong against China put the NBA and his direct employer, the Houston Rockets, in a precarious position with one of its international partners. The long-tenured general manager watched the world burn in the time since, perhaps smartly from his point of view, but enough time has passed that he should address the issue.

Five minutes after Morey’s tweet, Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta issued a strong rebuke. Five hours later, all hell broke loose. It hasn’t been quite five weeks since the Oct. 4 tweet, but it’s approaching that mark and Morey has been silent.

The storm that seemed overwhelming and all-encompassing has settled with the start of the regular season and the usual rhythm that accompanies the 82-game dance. Narratives and storylines driven by actual basketball have pushed Morey’s saga to the background and it’s fair to wonder if him potentially speaking up will restart a news cycle that has died down.

But Morey can’t skate on this, not in the way of punishment but accountability. He had his reasons for speaking up on the topic at the time he did it. Whether he thought about the ramifications is clearly unknown because he hasn’t spoken up since.

The dirty work was left to everyone else affected by his words.

The NBA had to issue a statement, then another stronger statement in the wake of its own stumble. Players who were in China and Tokyo had to bear the brunt of words they didn’t speak and had to interpret a deleted tweet that sent off an international firestorm.

Players were branded as hypocrites by the “shut up and dribble” crowd, as if caring and having intimate knowledge of one civil issue made them qualified to speak on foreign relations and business relationships that predated them and will exceed their own shelf lives.

Demonstrators stamp on Lebron James jerseys during a rally at the Southorn Playground in Hong Kong, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019. Protesters in Hong Kong have thrown basketballs at a photo of LeBron James and chanted their anger about comments the Los Angeles Lakers star made about free speech during a rally in support of NBA commissioner Adam Silver and Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, whose tweet in support of the Hong Kong protests touched off a firestorm of controversy in China. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
Daryl Morey started an international incident. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

The league was raked over the coals for a lukewarm response and clumsy handling, for its inconsistencies due to the relationship with a country whose values align through dollar signs not morality.

And as healthy as the conversation has been in some respects, Morey’s absence has been too noticeable for too long. He’s savvy with his words and thoughtful.

His approach has been copied throughout the league and he’s respected.

He’s not some adolescent youth that doesn’t know the weight of a tweet or a relationship — especially considering being in Houston and the franchise’s two decades-long partnership with China.

Morey isn’t required to speak on issues he’d rather keep private — to date he hasn’t spoken out on injustices that could be close to the hearts of his players and staff that happen right in his backyard, and he shouldn’t feel compelled to.

But he started this mess, and can’t run from it.

It isn't quite cowardly, but it is noticeable when an outspoken voice goes silent and an always present figure turns invisible.

“He started it, he should finish it,” an NBA player told Yahoo Sports. “We didn’t ask to be in it, but we had to deal with that in another country.”

Had he resigned from his position to mitigate the damage, an argument could be made he wouldn’t have to defend his feelings. And although he doesn’t have to defend staying at his post in the quest to elevate the Rockets to championship status, it’s a little unsettling to see him retreat so easily and allow others to take the shrapnel of critiques from all around.

There’s no muzzle on Morey. Multiple league sources told Yahoo Sports that Morey hasn’t been instructed not to speak on the matter by the NBA, and the Rockets have said the same thing. It would be understandable if either party felt like Morey would do more damage by addressing his comments, but that isn’t the case.

Morey didn’t return messages Friday and it isn’t known whether he was at Barclays Center for his team’s loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Friday night.

Nobody will dispute Morey having the best of intentions with his tweet and most won’t even argue with the content. But intentions don’t pay the bills and silence won’t save any more money.

A league source told Yahoo Sports there is financial damage, but the estimates of a 15 to 20 percent salary-cap decrease was a doomsday scenario that won’t come to fruition. And if that happened, the players’ association would have serious grounds to approach the league about its players suffering tangibly from a situation they didn’t initiate — a battle commissioner Adam Silver doesn’t want to have through these recent years of labor peace.

Still, there’s been a price to pay as previously pristine reputations have been tarnished, even if only temporarily.

There’s inconsistencies across the board. The NBA has its tricky relationship with China, not dissimilar from many big-box American brands that clearly want to benefit from China’s massive population without endorsing its policies. LeBron James has been outspoken about many civic issues, particularly unarmed black people getting gunned down by police, but was eerily quiet when 12-year-old Tamir Rice was killed in James’ home state. James’ Q rating took a blow when he took Morey to task but wasn’t as careful with his words as he should’ve been.

Morey, one would think, would want to stand on his principles and defend his feelings. His job shouldn’t be in jeopardy and if he were removed it would be a bad look for the NBA.

Seemingly, he has nothing to lose.

On the topic itself, hardly anyone disagrees.

But he started it, and larger conversations about international relationships, civic values and the value of the almighty dollar followed.

The only thing missing is Daryl Morey.

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