NBA backs free speech af­ter Hong Kong tweet furor

The Korea Times - - SPORTS -

TOKYO (AFP) — The NBA has in­sisted it backs free speech, af­ter U.S. politi­cians ac­cused it of cav­ing to China in a row over a pro-democ­racy tweet that has cost the Hous­ton Rock­ets lu­cra­tive Chi­nese spon­sors and air­time.

The pub­lic re­la­tions cri­sis erupted on Fri­day when the Hous­ton Rock­ets’ gen­eral man­ager posted a tweet back­ing pro­test­ers in the semi-au­ton­o­mous south­ern Chi­nese city of Hong Kong who are de­mand­ing greater free­doms.

China, which al­lows no dis­sent on the sen­si­tive is­sue, im­me­di­ately sought to pun­ish the Rock­ets, with state-run TV cut­ting its games and Chi­nese spon­sors aban­don­ing the team.

The NBA ini­tially put out state­ments that se­nior U.S. politi­cians slammed as bow­ing to China for fi­nan­cial rea­sons, while Rock­ets star guard James Har­den apol­o­gized.

But in his first pub­lic com­ments on the con­tro­versy, NBA Com­mis­sioner Adam Sil­ver in­sisted his or­ga­ni­za­tion sup­ported the right of Rock­ets gen­eral man­ager Daryl Morey to ex­press his opin­ions.

“I think as a val­ues-based or­ga­ni­za­tion that I want to make it clear … that Daryl Morey is sup­ported in terms of his abil­ity to ex­er­cise his free­dom of ex­pres­sion,” Sil­ver told Ja­pan’s Ky­odo News agency late Mon­day.

“There are the val­ues that have been part of this league from its ear­li­est days, and that in­cludes free ex­pres­sion,” he added, speak­ing in Ja­pan, where the Rock­ets and Toronto Rap­tors play sev­eral ex­hi­bi­tion games this week.

Sil­ver also ad­dressed the fi­nan­cial im­pacts for the Rock­ets and the NBA in the Chi­nese mar­ket, its most lu­cra­tive out­side of the United States.

“There is no doubt, the eco­nomic im­pact is al­ready clear,” he said. “There have al­ready been fairly dra­matic con­se­quences from that tweet.

NBA de­fends ‘free ex­pres­sion’

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 or­ga­ni­za­tion was “deeply dis­ap­pointed by the in­ap­pro­pri­ate re­marks”.

NBA spokesman Mike Bass sought to down­play the Chi­nese-lan­guage state­ment.

“We have seen var­i­ous in­ter­pre­ta­tions of the trans­la­tion of the Man­darin ver­sion, but our state­ment in English is the league’s of­fi­cial state­ment,” he said.

But even the English-lan­guage ver­sion of the NBA’s state­ment was widely crit­i­cized in the United States, where pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Beto O’Rourke, a Texan, deemed it an “em­bar­rass­ment.”

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