Businesses in China suspend ties with Houston Rockets after GM shows support for Hong Kong protests

Global Business

The general manager of the NBA team Houston Rockets apologized for his recent comments on Hong Kong. The comments sparked massive controversy in China over the weekend.

CGTN’s Wang Guan explains.


On Friday, Daryl Morey took to Twitter to show support for the months-long violent protests in Hong Kong, “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong,” Daryl Morey said. 

Morey’s tweet was quickly deleted, but not before it generated huge controversy in China. China’s consulate general in Houston urged the team to “clarify and immediately correct the mistakes” in a statement on Sunday.

Beijing repeatedly said some protesters in Hong Kong were mobs and rioters, not “peaceful pro-democracy protesters” as described in the western media.

On Sunday, the Chinese basketball Association-headed by none other than former Rockets star Yao Ming-announced it was suspending cooperation with the Houston team.

China’s largest sports broadcaster, CCTV Sports, suspended broadcasts of Houston Rockets games to its mammoth audience of 1 billion. Tencent, a media partner with the NBA that has a five-year streaming deal worth $1.5 billion, followed suit.

Sponsors also distanced themselves from the NBA team. Li-Ning Company, a leading Chinese sportswear maker, and Shanghai Pudong Development Bank both said they would suspend cooperation with the team.

The Houston Rockets and the NBA community are apparently walking a thin line between exercising rights of individual free speech and retaining their huge fanbase and commercial interests in China. Many of them later issued apologies.

Houston Rockets manager Daryl Morey tweeted on Monday quote: ” I was merely voicing one thought, based on one interpretation of one complicated event. I have had a lot of opportunities since that tweet to hear and consider other perspectives. I have always appreciated the significant support our Chinese fans and sponsors have provided and I would hope that those who are upset will know that offending or misunderstanding them was not my intention.”

Houston Rockets player James Harden also made a statement.

“Um, yeah, we apologize, you know. You know, we love China, we love playing there. I know for both of us individually, we go there, you know, once or twice a year,” Houston Rockets Player James Harden said. “They show us the most support and love, so, you know, we appreciate them as a fan-base, and we love everything, you know, they’re about and we appreciate the support they give us, individually and as an organization, so, you know, we love you.”

This incident is quickly evolving into a political issue, with some U.S. politicians including a Texas senator Ted Cruz, calling for more pressure against Beijing to support Hong Kong’s protesters.

Taiwanese-Canadian owner of New York Nets Joseph-Tsai said on his Facebook that freedom of expression is an inherent American value and the NBA has been very progressive allowing players to speak out on issues – yet “supporting a separatist movement in a Chinese territory is one of those third-rail issues, not only for the Chinese government but also for all citizens in China. The one thing that is terribly misunderstood – and often ignored, by the western press and those critical of China – is that 1.4 billion Chinese citizens stand united when it comes to the territorial integrity of China and the country’s sovereignty over her homeland.”