NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said he hopes to meet with Chinese officials this week when he travels to Shanghai for Thursday night's game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets — after a tweet from one of the league's executives ignited an international firestorm.
Chinese state-run television network CCTV said it was suspending the current broadcast arrangements for the NBA's preseason games in China, including this week's game, after the general manager of the Houston Rockets, Daryl Morey, tweeted support Sunday for the anti-government protests in Hong Kong. The fallout has escalated from there as other Chinese companies began severing ties to the National Basketball Association.
Silver called CCTV's decision "unfortunate" and apologized for offending the league's Chinese fans. He stood by Morey's right to express his opinions, saying the league would "protect its employees' freedom of speech."
"If that's the consequences of us adhering to our values, we still feel it's critically important we adhere to those values," he said, speaking at news conference Tuesday in Tokyo before a preseason game between the Rockets and NBA champion Toronto Raptors.
He said he hopes to meet with Chinese officials later this week to "discuss where we stand and again, put those remarks from Daryl Morey and my remarks in an appropriate context of a many decades-long relationship and see if we can find mutual respect for each other's political systems and beliefs."
The Chinese-run television network said it was "strongly dissatisfied" with Silver's remarks.
"We oppose Silver's claim to support Morey's right of free expression. We believe that any speech that challenges national sovereignty and social stability is not within the scope of freedom of speech," CCTV said in its statement in Chinese, which was translated by CNBC.
Tencent has been the digital media partner of the NBA in China since 2009. The two sides just announced an extension of their deal to the 2024-2025 season, that's reportedly worth $1.5 billion. China's largest online shopping sites owned by giants Alibaba and JD.com appear to have removed items related to the Houston Rockets.
The international incident was ignited when Morey tweeted the slogan "Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong," which is being used by anti-government protesters in the Chinese territory.
The tweet was quickly deleted and Morey sent a follow-up tweet attempting to walk back the statement.
It still quickly drew backlash from both the Chinese Consulate General in Houston and the Chinese Basketball Association.
The CBA said it is was suspending cooperation with the team. The association is chaired by Yao Ming, a Chinese NBA star who was formerly with the Rockets, and is credited with helping the game expand in China. The CBA also canceled four games scheduled later this month in Suzhou, China, which included some matches between the Houston Rockets' G League affiliate the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.
Silver said Ming was "extremely hot" over the league's response.
"I'm not sure he quite accepts how we're operating our business right now. I accept that we have a difference of opinion," Silver said, adding that "tolerance" is one of the league's core values. "I think tolerance for differing societies approaches. Tolerance for differing points of views and the ability to listen."
Correction: Chinese companies have begun severing ties to the National Basketball Association. An earlier version misstated the league's name.