Hous­ton Rock­ets man­ager backs off Hong Kong tweet af­ter China back­lash

Lodi News-Sentinel - - SPORTS - — Derek Wall­bank, Bloomberg News

SIN­GA­PORE — The Hous­ton Rock­ets and the NBA found them­selves caught in a firestorm of con­tro­versy over a tweet about the protests in Hong Kong, ex­tend­ing to the sports world the list of tar­gets vul­ner­a­ble to China’s po­lit­i­cal sen­si­tiv­i­ties.

In a tweet late Fri­day, Gen­eral Man­ager Daryl Morey ap­peared to sup­port Hong Kong de­mon­stra­tors, with the mes­sage con­tain­ing an im­age that read “Fight for Free­dom. Stand with Hong Kong.” The mes­sage was deleted, and Morey later tweeted that he did not mean to cause of­fense. The Na­tional Bas­ket­ball As­so­ci­a­tion is­sued its own apol­ogy.

But the dam­age was done, with Chi­nese sports­wear maker Li Ning Co. and Shang­hai Pudong De­vel­op­ment Bank Credit Card Cen­ter sus­pend­ing co­op­er­a­tion with the Rock­ets, while CCTV Sports said it will halt broad­cast­ing the team’s games.

The episode is the lat­est in­ci­dent to high­light the risks for in­ter­na­tional busi­nesses be­ing caught up in the stand­off be­tween pro-democ­racy de­mon­stra­tors and Hong Kong au­thor­i­ties. From Star­bucks Corp. to Cathay Pa­cific Air­ways Ltd., brands and com­pa­nies are be­ing tar­geted if they’re seen to be sup­port­ing ei­ther side in the dis­pute.

It also drags the world of sports into the con­tro­versy, set­ting up emo­tional re­ac­tions in both China and the U.S. The is­sue is par­tic­u­larly sen­si­tive for the Rock­ets, who have worked hard to es­tab­lish a loyal fan base in China.

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