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  • Associated Press Fans wait to purchase team merchandise outside Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, before an preseason game between the Rockets and Raptors.

  • Silver NBA Commissioner Adam Silver speaks at a news conference before an NBA preseason basketball game between the Houston Rockets and the Toronto Raptors Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019, in Saitama, near Tokyo. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Wednesday, October 09, 2019 1:00 am

NBA cites free speech in regard to owner's tweet

Not apologizing even in midst of rift with China

Associated Press

TOKYO – NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said the league is not apologizing for Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey's since-deleted tweet showing support for anti-government protesters in Hong Kong, even after China's state broadcaster canceled plans to show a pair of preseason games in that country later this week.

Silver, speaking Tuesday at a news conference in Tokyo before a preseason game between the Rockets and NBA champion Toronto Raptors, went as far as to say that he and the league are “apologetic” that so many Chinese officials and fans were upset by Morey's tweet and comments that followed – but insisted that Morey has the right to freedom of expression.

“Daryl Morey, as general manager of the Houston Rockets, enjoys that right as one of our employees,” Silver said. “What I also tried to suggest is that I understand there are consequences from his freedom of speech and we will have to live with those consequences.”

Among those consequences: CCTV said it would not show the games between the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets, who will play Thursday in Shanghai and Saturday in Shenzhen. Basketball is wildly popular in China and those two teams – largely because of the Lakers' LeBron James and Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba's co-founder Joe Tsai now owning the Nets – would have been a huge television draw.

“We're strongly dissatisfied and oppose Adam Silver's claim to support Morey's right to freedom of expression,” CCTV said in a statement. “We believe that any remarks that challenge national sovereignty and social stability are not within the scope of freedom of speech.”

The broadcaster is also reviewing its cooperation and exchanges involving the NBA.

The NBA is not the first major corporation to deal with criticism from China over political differences. Mercedes-Benz, Delta Air Lines, Marriott, and others also have found themselves in conflicts with China in recent years.

Silver is going to Shanghai today and said he hopes to meet with officials and some of the league's business partners there in an effort to find some sort of common ground. He said he hopes Chinese officials and fans look at the totality of the impact of their three-decade-plus relationship, and urged them to see his response while acknowledging there are political differences between the countries.

“I'm sympathetic to our interests here and our partners that are upset,” Silver said. “I don't think it's inconsistent on one hand to be sympathetic to them and at the same time stand by our principles.”

The China-NBA rift started late last week when Morey tweeted a now-deleted image that read: “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong,” in reference to pro-democracy demonstrations in the semiautonomous Chinese territory that has been mired in escalating violence between protesters and law enforcement.

Further complicating the matter is this: China's best-known basketball player is Hall of Famer Yao Ming, who spent his NBA career with the Rockets. Yao is now the president of the Chinese Basketball Association, which has said it is suspending its relationship with the Rockets as part of the response to Morey's tweet. The CBA also canceled plans to have the G League affiliates play preseason games in China later this month.

“I'm hoping that together Yao Ming and I can find an accommodation,” Silver said. “But he is extremely hot at the moment, and I understand it.”