‘We love China’: NBA star James Harden apologises for manager’s tweet supporting Hong Kong protests

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Daryl Morey. Photo: Wikicommons.

Several Chinese businesses are suspending ties with the Houston Rockets after the American basketball team’s general manager expressed support for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests.

Daryl Morey set off a firestorm in mainland China over the weekend when he posted an image on Twitter that read, “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong.” Tensions between Hong Kong and Beijing, which controls the former British colony, have been fueled by months of political unrest.
Backlash from China followed quickly. The Chinese Basketball Association said Sunday it would suspend all cooperation with the Texas-based team. The association’s chairman is Yao Ming, a former Rockets player.
– From CNN

Houston Rockets star James Harden on Monday apologised to China over a tweet by the team’s general manager backing Hong Kong’s democracy protests that cost the franchise TV exposure and sponsorship in the lucrative Chinese market.

The team and the NBA were forced into defensive mode as China’s state broadcaster said it was yanking Rockets games from the air and  sponsors abandoned them.

The controversy quickly spread across the Pacific, as commentators and even a presidential candidate rounded on the league for kowtowing to authoritarian Beijing.

In Tokyo, where the team is playing two exhibition matches this week, Harden distanced himself from the controversy.

“We apologise. We love China,” he said, standing alongside fellow Rockets guard Russell Westbrook.

“We love playing there. Both of us, we go there once or twice a year. They show us most support so we appreciate them.”

The furore comes after general manager Daryl Morey — whose Rockets have had a huge following in China since they signed Yao Ming in 2002 — posted a tweet Friday featuring the message “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong”.

 James Harden

Houston Rockets star James Harden. Photo: Wikicommons.

On Monday he tried to calm the water.

“I did not intend my tweet to cause any offense to Rockets fans and friends of mine in China,” he tweeted.

“I was merely voicing one thought, based on one interpretation, of one complicated event. I have had a lot of opportunity since that tweet to hear and consider other perspectives.”

“I have always appreciated the significant support our Chinese fans and sponsors have provided and I would hope that those who are upset will know that offending or misunderstanding them was not my intention,” he added.

‘Get out of China’ 

Semi-autonomous Hong Kong has been battered by four months of increasingly violent pro-democracy protests.

The rallies were ignited by a now-scrapped plan to allow extraditions to mainland China, fuelling fears of an erosion of liberties in Hong Kong under the 50-year “one country, two systems” model China agreed before the 1997 handover from Britain.

october 6 mong kok

Photo: May James/HKFP.

The NBA issued its own statement, saying it recognised Morey’s views “have offended so many of our friends and fans in China, which is regrettable.”

“While Daryl has made it clear that his tweet does not represent the Rockets or the NBA, the values of the league support individuals’ educating themselves and sharing their views on matters important to them,” the statement issued by chief communications officer Mike Bass said.

But a Chinese-language version of the statement posted on Weibo went further, saying the NBA was “deeply disappointed by the inappropriate remarks”.

In the United States, the NBA found itself under fire for its apology, which presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, a Texan, called “an embarrassment.”

“The only thing the NBA should be apologizing for is their blatant prioritization of profits over human rights,” he tweeted.

The NBA’s statement also did little to mollify fans in China, with furious comments among the 15,000 responses on Weibo.

“This is an apology?” one user wrote. “Get out of China,” added another

 ‘Incorrect comments’ 

The Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets are due to play  pre-season games in Shanghai and Shenzhen later this week.

Chinese state broadcaster CCTV and Tencent Holdings, which streams NBA games in China, have both said they will halt Rockets broadcasts.

And sponsors including sportswear brand Li Ning and the Shanghai Pudong Development Bank announced they were cutting ties.

Krystal Hu@readkrystalhu · 
Chain reactions since Huston Rockets’ GM Daryl Morey tweeted an image to support Hong Kong protests: China’s consulate in Houston expressed “strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition”, demanding apologies. Chinese brands pulled out partnerships w/ Rockets, a popular team there. https://twitter.com/tilmanjfertitta/status/1180330287957495809 Tilman Fertitta@TilmanJFertitta
Listen….@dmorey 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 https://twitter.com/dmorey/status/1180312072027947008 

Krystal Hu@readkrystalhu
No more Rockets games for Chinese fans: State broadcaster CCTV & tech giant Tencent who paid reportedly $1.5 billion for 5-year NBA streaming rights, will stop broadcasting Houston Rockets games. Tencent sent a notif to Rockets fans if they want to change the team they support.
View image on Twitter

The Rockets had already tried to distance themselves from the controversy, with owner Tilman Fertitta on Friday writing on Twitter that Morey “does NOT speak for the @HoustonRockets… we are NOT a political organization.”

The Rockets are in Japan for two exhibition games and Harden said Monday that remained the team’s focus.

“The reason why we’re here in Japan is we got two amazing games tomorrow and Thursday,” he told reporters.

“(It’s) an opportunity for fans to come and watch NBA… we’re excited to be here.”

by Natsuko Fukue
HKFP

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