The NBA and China are locked in an escalating feud sparked by a tweet that voiced support for protests in Hong Kong.
For over 18 weeks, millions of people in Hong Kong have taken to the streets for increasingly violent protests. Initially, protests centered around a proposed bill that would have allowed for the extradition of Hong Kong residents to China to face trial. Now, demonstrations have ballooned into a fight against police brutality and Chinese encroachment on the semi-autonomous city.
Though the bill has since been withdrawn, protests continue and have recently seen a spike in violent clashes between police and protesters as China marked its 70th anniversary on Oct. 1, 2019. The topic of Hong Kong protests remains a sensitive issue for China, and China has been known to take harsh action against companies that so much as reference its domestic affairs or appear to threaten its authority.
As described by The New York Times, basketball is China's most popular sport, with a market representing hundreds of millions of fans. According to CNBC, more than 640 million people in China watched the 2017-2018 NBA season.
On Oct. 11, 2019, Daryl Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets, tweeted out an image which voiced support for protests in Hong Kong. In the days following, Chinese leagues, streaming services, sponsors, and partners, have cut ties with the Rockets and the NBA.
Here's everything you need to know about the feud, from the initial tweet to the escalating backlash.
On Oct. 4, 2019, Morey tweeted out an image that voiced support for a protest group in Hong Kong.
In the since-deleted tweet, Morey posted the symbol of Stand With Hong Kong, an activist group that has been behind calls for foreign government intervention in Hong Kong.
The tweet immediately prompted backlash from Chinese social-media users, who targeted his account with angry messages and calls for his firing.
In response to the backlash, Tilman Fertitta, the owner of the Rockets, addressed the controversy on Oct. 5, 2019.
Seeking to do damage control, Fertitta distanced the team and its shareholders from Morey's statement.
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://t.co/yNyQFtwTTi— Tilman Fertitta (@TilmanJFertitta) October 5, 2019
"Listen....@dmorey does NOT speak for the @HoustonRockets," he wrote.
He later defended Morey on ESPN, saying that he had "best general manager in the league" but that Rockets had "no political position."
On Oct. 6, 2019, the Chinese Basketball Association, which represents China in the International Basketball Federation, announced it was halting cooperation with the Rockets in response to the tweet.
The CBA's president is Yao Ming, the former NBA All-Star who played for the Rockets from 2002 to 2011.
"The Chinese Basketball Association strongly disagrees with the improper remarks by Daryl Morey, and has decided to suspend exchanges and cooperation with the team," the CBA said in a statement on its official account on Chinese microblogging platform Weibo.
Several of the Rocket's sponsors and partners announced that they would no longer broadcast games.
State broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) and the livestreaming platform Tencent Sports, announced on Sunday that they would no longer broadcast Rockets games.
Tencent Holdings represents the NBA's largest digital partner outside the US. It struck a deal in July to stream games and other league programming in China reported to be worth $1.5 billion.
The Chinese consulate in Houston said in a statement that it was "deeply shocked" by what it described as Morey's "erroneous comments on Hong Kong."
"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," the statement said.
On Sunday evening, the NBA responded and called the tweet "regrettable."
Morey on Sunday responded to the firestorm on Twitter, saying his views did not necessarily reflect those of the NBA or the Rockets.
The NBA also issued a statement:
Statement from NBA re: Daryl Morey’s controversial tweet: pic.twitter.com/6IJv9FJF4T— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) October 7, 2019
"While Daryl has made it clear that his tweet does not represent the Rockets or the NBA, the values of the league supports individuals educating themselves and sharing their views on matters important to them," the statement read.
On Oct. 7, 2019, Democrat and Republican lawmakers hit back over the NBA's 'shameful' response to Chinese backlash.
Some lawmakers came out in support of Morey and criticized the NBA for distancing themselves from the league manager.
"As a lifelong @HoustonRockets fan, I was proud to see @dmorey call out the Chinese Communist Party's repressive treatment of protesters in Hong Kong," Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said on Twitter on Monday.
"Now, in pursuit of $, the @NBA is shamefully retreating."
Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowski of New Jersey slammed the NBA for "apologizing" to China.
"And the #NBA, which (correctly) has no problem with players/employees criticizing our govt, is now apologizing for criticizing the Chinese gov't," Malinowski tweeted. "This is shameful and cannot stand."
The NBA issued another statement on Oct. 8, 2019. This time, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said the league would not "censor" players or team owners.
"The NBA will not put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees and team owners say or will not say," Silver said in a statement. "We simply could not operate that way."
"I do know there are consequences from freedom of speech; we will have to live with those consequences," he added. "For those who question our motivation, this is about far more than growing our business."
Following Morey's statement, Chinese broadcasters said they would stop broadcasting NBA games.
"Any speech challenging a country's national sovereignty and social stability is not within the scope of freedom of speech," CCTV said in its announcement that it would be halting all broadcasts of NBA preseason games.
Silver responded by calling the move "unfortunate."
Tencent Sports followed the measure and issued a statement saying that it would temporarily stop showing all NBA preseason games.
Fans have since weighed in on the controversy. On Tuesday, fans began showing up to games with T-shirts and signs voicing support for Hong Kong.
At the Philadelphia 76ers exhibition game against the Guangzhou Loong-Lions of the Chinese Basketball Association at Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday, two fans were escorted out of the arena after holding up signs and cheering in support of the protests.
The 76ers responded in a statement, saying the protesters caused a "disruption" and were at the center of "multiple complaints from guests." Wells Fargo Center said the two were given "three separate warnings" for "disrupting the live event experience."
On Wednesday, some NBA fans at the Washington Wizards vs. Guangzhou Loong-Lions game in Washington wore "Free Hong Kong" T-shirts and holding protest signs said their signs were confiscated.
On Oct. 9, 2019, all of the NBA's official Chinese partners cut ties.
All of the companies on the NBA's list of wholly-owned Chinese sponsors had suspended ties with the league as of Wednesday, according to CNN Business. Those businesses included CTrip, China's biggest online travel website, and the Chinese fast-food chain Dicos.
On Wednesday, promotional material for a preseason game between the Brooklyn Nets and the Los Angeles Lakers was removed from buildings across Shanghai.
Meet-and-greets and media events were also postponed, an NBA spokeswoman said, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The game went on as scheduled on Thursday.
On Oct. 10, 2019, a reporter for CNN was cut off from asking a question to NBA athletes about the conflict.
Christina Macfarlane, a sports correspondent for CNN, was shut down during a media event with Rockets players James Harden and Russell Westbrook.
She asked the players if they would "feel differently" about voicing their thoughts on political and social affairs in light of the controversy.
"Excuse me, we're taking basketball questions only," a team representative responded.
The NBA later issued an apology, saying that the representative "inappropriately interjected" and that the response was "inconsistent to how the NBA conducts media events."
And Nike, a major partner of the NBA that provides the league with team apparel, pulled Houston Rockets gear from several stores in China.
Managers at five Nike stores in Shanghai and Beijing told Reuters on Thursday that they had been told in a company memo from management to pull all Rockets merchandise from shelves.
Three stores in Shenzhen, a Chinese city which borders Hong Kong, took down all Rockets merchandise along with NBA merchandise. Three stores in Chengdu, the capital of the Chinese province of Sichuan, also removed Rockets gear.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
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