NBA voices support for freedom of speech as China halts broadcasts

NBA voices support for freedom of speech as China halts broadcasts

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China on Tuesday scrapped plans to air NBA exhibition games after a team manager drew the ire of the country with a now-deleted tweet that expressed support for the Hong Kong protests. Despite China's harsh response, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said the association won't apologize. The NBA did call the tweet "regrettable" and in its Chinese statement, said the association was “disappointed” by the views.

How we got here: Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey upset NBA fans in China, as well as the government, when he tweeted support for the pro-democracy Hong Kong protests, which China sees as a pro-independence movement that threatens their sovereignty.

Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta distanced himself and the team from the remarks. Morey deleted the tweet and apologized.

Severing ties: Initially, the Chinese Basketball Association, state broadcaster CCTV, and other partners said they would end cooperation with the Rockets, as reported by LaCorte News. Now, they're saying that they won't air preseason games, including the ones between the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers and they will “immediately investigate all cooperation and exchanges involving the NBA," reported South China Morning Post.

Free speech: Commissioner Adam Silver told reporters Tuesday that while the NBA is "apologetic" that the tweet angered China, Morey has the right to freedom of speech.

“It is inevitable that people around the world -- including from America and China -- will have different viewpoints over different issues. However, the NBA will not put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees and team owners say or will not say on these issues. We simply could not operate that way," Silver said in a statement before the press conference.

“Daryl Morey, as general manager of the Houston Rockets, enjoys that right as one of our employees. 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," he told reporters. “There are the values that have been part of this league from its earliest days, and that includes free expression."

China's response: CCTV said it disagrees and is  “strongly dissatisfied” with Silver's stance. “We believe that any speech that challenges national sovereignty and social stability is not within the scope of freedom of speech.”

“How can it be possible to carry out exchanges and cooperation with China without knowing China’s public opinion? NBA’s cooperation with China has been going on for quite a long time, so for what should be said and what should be done, they know best," Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Geng Shuang said Tuesday.

An attempt at making amends: Silver is expected to travel to Shangai on Wednesday where he will meet Chinese officials and some NBA's business partners. “I’m sympathetic to our interests here and our partners that are upset. I don’t think it’s inconsistent on one hand to be sympathetic to them and at the same time stand by our principles," Silver said.

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