National Basketball Association Commissioner Adam Silver said the organisation will not apologise over a tweet from Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey expressing support for Hong Kong's protesters.

Men walk past a poster at an NBA exhibition in Beijing, China. October 8, 2019.
Men walk past a poster at an NBA exhibition in Beijing, China. October 8, 2019. (Reuters)

National Basketball Association (NBA) Commissioner Adam Silver said on Tuesday it is not up to the NBA to regulate what players, employees and team owners say amid anger from China over a tweet from Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey expressing support for Hong Kong's protesters.

"It is inevitable that people around the world – including from America and China – will have different viewpoints over different issues," Silver said in a statement. "It is not the role of the NBA to adjudicate those differences."

The NBA is "not apologising" for the tweet supporting Hong Kong's pro-democracy protests, he also said.

"We are not apologising for Daryl exercising his freedom of expression." 

"I regret, again having communicated directly with many friends in China, that so many people are upset, including millions and millions of our fans," Silver added

Not airing NBA

China had earlier scrapped plans to air NBA exhibition games as the league faced an escalating punishment campaign in the lucrative Chinese market ignited by the tweet.

The NBA also faced a counter-attack in the US, where presidential candidates, influential senators, and fans accused it of kowtowing to authoritarian China.

The NBA, seeking to balance its interests in the Chinese market against American free speech values, found itself squeezed by both sides in a reflection of the broader tensions between the global superpowers.

The league initially put out statements that senior US politicians slammed as bowing to China for financial reasons, while Rockets star guard James Harden apologised.

More punishments 

China's Communist Party-controlled broadcaster responded on Tuesday, announcing it had shelved plans to broadcast a pair of pre-season exhibition games to be held in China this week and was considering more punishments.

"We believe that any comments that challenge national sovereignty and social stability are not within the scope of freedom of speech," China Central Television (CCTV) said on its social media account.

"To this end, CCTV's Sports Channel has decided to immediately suspend plans to broadcast the NBA preseason games (China Games) and will immediately investigate all cooperation and communication involving the NBA."

Chinese Internet giant Tencent, which streams NBA games to hundreds of millions of fans in China each year, quickly followed suit.

China's government said Morey's tweet was "wrong".

"How can you have exchanges and cooperate with the Chinese side without understanding the (mindset of) the Chinese people.

That's not going to work," foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a regular press briefing.

'Biggest lesson' 

Meanwhile the Global Times, a nationalist paper known for communicating the ruling Communist Party's attitudes to the world, issued a blunt warning to global firms that speaking out on human rights and other sensitive issues would cost them market access.

"The problem is that Morey's freedom is at the expense of (the) Rockets' huge commercial interests, which the team is unwilling to give up. It's a paradox with which Americans are grappling," the editorial said.

"The biggest lesson which can be drawn from the matter is that entities that value commercial interests must make their members speak cautiously."

However, the NBA's initial statement in English on the furore said it was "regrettable" that Morey's views had "offended so many of our friends and fans in China".

A Chinese-language version of the statement went further, saying the organisation was "deeply disappointed by the inappropriate remarks".

In the US, Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke, a Texan, deemed the NBA's initial statements an "embarrassment."

'South Park' creators offer mock apology

The creators of satirical animated series "South Park" issued a mocking apology to China after media reports that episodes of the show were no longer available on some Chinese websites.

The "Band in China" episode released on October 2 critiqued China's policies on free speech as well as the efforts of Hollywood to shape its movie and television content in recent years to avoid angering censors in the vast Chinese market.

"Like the NBA, we welcome the Chinese censors into our homes and into our hearts. We too love money more than freedom," Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of the irreverent Comedy Central show, wrote in a Twitter post titled "Official apology to China."

"Long live the Great Communist Party of China! May this autumn's sorghum harvest be bountiful! We good now China?" Parker and Stone added.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies