The NBA is facing serous backlash from China over a seven-word tweet from the Houston Rockets General Manager, Daryl Morey, who within minutes created an economic and social meltdown.
Earlier this October, Morey tweeted, “Fight for freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.”
This tweet was to show support for the pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong. Within minutes after the post he quickly deleted the tweet and immediately apologized for his actions. Morey said he was “merely voicing one thought, based on one interpretation, of one complicated event.”
Up to this point, the Houston Rockets were the most popular team in China. This is because of NBA hall of famer Yao Ming, who was born and raised in China and played all nine years in the NBA with the Rockets. Throughout his time, he helped popularize and grow the game of basketball all throughout China. Despite this, China has cut ties with the Rockets organization because of Morey’s single tweet.
According to cbssports.com, the Rockets could potentially lose $25 million in sponsorship boycotts due to Morey’s tweet. This is a huge hit for not only the Rockets but the NBA as well. According to bbc.com, the league has a $1.5 billion streaming deal with Chinese media company, Tencent. All of that is in jeopardy with China potentially burning all bridges with the NBA. Economically, China matters to the NBA.
This got American athletes and politicians to weigh in on the controversy.
Future hall of famer and current NBA star for the Los Angeles Lakers, Lebron James, had some words of his own during a routine press conference after the tweet had been exposed to the public. James said, “I believe he wasn’t educated on the situation at hand and he spoke.”
James focused not on the political aspect of the situation but focused more on the NBA’s relationship with the country.
However, James received a lot of backlash from these comments. According to NBC’s reporter, Ron Mott, James has a lucrative deal with Nike for sneaker sales along with starring in the movie Space Jam 2, which has a lot of international appeal as well.
Senator Ben Sasse, tweeted at James after his comments saying, “You’re parroting communist propaganda. China is running torture camps and you know it. #GoogleUyghurs”
All this controversy has largely had negative effects on the NBA. U.S. politicians have begun voicing their opinions and are calling for a change. According to sbnation.com, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz signed a letter to the NBA ripping the league for not standing behind Morey more forcefully and for having a training academy in the heart of Xinjiang province, where China is allegedly holding a million Uyghurs in “re-education camps.”
This then begs the question: Will the NBA be fine without the economic and social support of China? Will the NBA pull out of China all-together? Or will both the NBA and China put aside political views and come to terms on the sport that both countries love so dearly?