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The NBA and the Houston Rockets are embroiled in a tenuous situation with China over a since-deleted tweet from general manager Daryl Morey regarding protests in Hong Kong.
Following Morey’s tweet, which expressed support for Hong Kong, multiple Chinese businesses, including the Chinese Basketball Association and Tencent Sports, which is the NBA’s exclusive digital partner in China, have suspended business relations with the Rockets, according to Reuters and China Global Television Network.
This developing story comes at a time when the NBA is showcasing its product in Asia. The Indiana Pacers and Sacramento Kings just played two games in India, the Rockets and Toronto Raptors will play two games in Tokyo this week and the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets will play two games in China on Thursday and Saturday.
The NBA and the Rockets could respond to the issue this week.
The topic is sure to be front and center, especially as protesters in Hong Kong remain active. People in Hong Kong are protesting a law that would allow extradition of fugitives who are wanted in mainland China. Violent clashes between protesters and police have led to a “unprecedented violence” and a “semi-paralyzed” city, according to Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam.
Morey tweeted a graphic with the words, “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.” He deleted the tweet, and Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta issued a strong rebuke of Morey on Twitter.
“Listen…@darylmorey does NOT speak for the @HoustonRockets. Our presence in Tokyo is all about the promotion of the @NBA internationally and we are NOT a political organization. @ESPN,” Fertitta tweeted.
The NBA has significant business relationships with Chinese companies, and the Rockets are one of the NBA’s most popular teams in China thanks in large part to Chinese-born Hall of Famer Yao Ming, who played for the Rockets.
The Rockets also have business relations with Chinese companies, and Yao is also the president of the Chinese Basketball Association, which also suspended cooperation with the Rockets, according to the Associated Press.
Tencent Sports said it has suspended live streaming and news of the Rockets. In July, the NBA and Tencent reached a five-year extension of their deal that runs through the 2024-25 season.
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“Tencent’s commitment to NBA basketball in China is unparalleled,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a July statement. “The enormous reach and popularity of Tencent’s platforms have been a driving force behind the growth of basketball in China, and we look forward to deepening our connection with NBA fans across the country through this expanded partnership.”
The Chinese consulate in Houston also condemned Morey’s comments in a statement posted on its website.
“We are deeply shocked by the erroneous comments on Hong Kong made by Mr. Daryl Morey, general manager of the Houston Rockets,” the statement read. “We have lodged representations and expressed strong dissatisfaction with the Houston Rockets, and urged the latter to correct the error and take immediate concrete measures to eliminate the adverse impact.
“At the moment, ending violence and chaos and restoring order has become the widest common consensus and the strongest appeal of all social sectors in Hong Kong. Anybody with conscience would support the efforts made by the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to safeguard Hong Kong’s social stability.”
Sports apparel company Li-Ning, which has partnerships with Dwyane Wade and projected 2020 lottery pick R.J. Hampton, also halted business operations with the Rockets and wanted the organization to “give a clear answer on this matter,” according to Reuters.
Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.