Chinese state TV, businesses break with NBA over Hong Kong tweet

NBA boss says league will not regulate what its players, employees and members say, prompting fury in China.

NBA China
Some Chinese businesses have cut ties with the NBA amid the furore [Tingshu Wang/Reuters]

Chinese state television has announced it will no longer air any of the National Basketball Association (NBA)’s pre-season games set to be played in the country.

In a statement released on Tuesday, CCTV indicated that the decision was prompted by NBA Commissioner Alan Silver’s remarks in Japan following a tweet by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey last week that supported anti-government demonstrations in Hong Kong.

The broadcaster is also reviewing all its cooperation and exchanges involving the NBA, siad the statement, posted to CCTV Sports’ official social media account. 

“We’re strongly dissatisfied and oppose Adam Silver’s claim to support Morley’s right to freedom of expression,” CCTV said. “We believe that any remarks that challenge national sovereignty and social stability are not within the scope of freedom of speech.” 

Silver told reporters in Tokyo that the league was not willing to compromise and backed members’ rights to express their opinions.

He said he would discuss the situation with officials from Chinese partners in Shanghai later this week, adding that he hopes Chinese fans would understand the league’s position. 

Prior to the news conference on Tuesday, Silver released a statement saying the league “will not put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees and team owners say or will not say on these issues”. 

“We have seen how basketball can be an important form of people-to-people exchange that deepens ties between the United States and China,” Silver said.

“At the same time, we recognize that our two countries have different political systems and beliefs. And like many global brands, we bring our business to places with different political systems around the world.”

Morey has apologised for the now-deleted tweet, which included the lines “Fight for Freedom, Stand with Hong Kong”. 

Business links

Some Chinese businesses have cut ties with the NBA amid the furore, including smartphone maker Vivo, which was a key sponsor for the upcoming exhibition games to be played in Shanghai and Shenzhen later this week by the Los Angeles Lakers and the Brooklyn Nets. 

A major sports retailer and a news site have also halted their partnerships with the NBA. 

“How can it be possible to carry out exchanges and cooperation with China without knowing China’s public opinion?” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a press briefing on Tuesday. 

“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.”

Al Jazeera’s Rob Matheson, reporting from Beijing, said the response from Chinese social media users has been overwhelmingly one of patriotism.

“They love the NBA, they love basketball but they love China more,” he said. 

Basketball is the number one sport in China, which hosted the sport’s World Cup earlier this year. 

The Rockets have a large following in the country from the years when Chinese basketball star Yao Ming played for the team. 

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies