SHANGHAI (AP/CBSLA) – The Los Angeles Lakers preseason games against the Brooklyn Nets in China are at risk of being canceled amid the ongoing rift following Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey’s tweet last week supporting anti-government protesters in Hong Kong, which sparked a firestorm of Chinese criticism.
The NBA called off scheduled media sessions Wednesday for the Lakers and Nets in Shanghai.
The two teams are supposed to play Thursday in Shanghai and again Saturday in Shenzhen. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver met with players from both the Nets and Lakers on Wednesday in Shanghai, telling them that the league’s intention remains to play the games as scheduled.
However, workers in multiple spots around Shanghai were tearing down large outdoor promotional advertisements for Thursday’s Lakers-Nets game.
The teams are practicing in Shanghai, where at least two other NBA events in advance of the start of the China games were canceled. An NBA Cares event in Shanghai that was to benefit Special Olympics was called off, as was a “fan night” celebration that was to be highlighted by the league announcing plans to refurbish some outdoor courts in that city.
Silver said Tuesday in Tokyo that he supports Morey’s right to free speech. Several Chinese companies have suspended their partnership with the NBA in recent days, and Chinese state broadcaster CCTV said it will not broadcast the Lakers-Nets games.
“I’m sympathetic to our interests here and to our partners who are upset,” Silver said. “I don’t think it’s inconsistent on one hand to be sympathetic to them and at the same time stand by our principles.”
Neither the Lakers organization nor any of its players have yet commented on the controversy.
L.A. Clippers Head Coach Doc Rivers has waded into the discussion, however, telling the L.A. Times that he supported Silver’s stance.
“We don’t get killed for saying in what we believe in, what we get is disagreed (with),” Rivers told the Times. “We can disagree. I can disagree with everything you say, I have the right to do that and I have the right to say so and that’s good. That’s what this country is about, freedom of speech, and we should always have freedom of speech. But I did tell (players) this, freedom of speech does not mean freedom of consequences.”
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) October 7, 2019
Chinese smartphone maker Vivo has joined the list of companies that have suspended — for now, at least — ties with the NBA. Vivo was a presenting sponsor of the Lakers-Nets games, and on Wednesday there was no reference to the game in Shanghai on the list of upcoming events scheduled at Mercedes-Benz Arena. Other firms such as apparel company Li-Ning announced similar moves earlier this week, as the rift was just beginning.
According to CBS News, Morey sent a tweet voicing support forover the weekend, then deleted it. He then sent several tweets apologizing for offending any Chinese people.
After Morey deleted his tweet, Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta said Morey does not speak for the organization. Joe Tsai, who recently completed his purchase of the Nets and is a co-founder of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, has said the damage to the NBA’s relationship with China “will take a long time to repair.”
All around China, stores that sell NBA merchandise were removing Rockets-related apparel from shelves and many murals featuring the Rockets — even ones with Yao Ming, the Chinese great who played for Houston during his NBA career — were being painted over.
China’s national broadcaster CCTV later released a statement decrying Silver’s support for freedom of speech.
“We are strongly dissatisfied and opposed Adam Silver’s claim to support Morey’s rights of free expression,” a statement from CCTV read. “We believe that any speech that challenges national sovereignty and social stability is not within the scope of freedom of speech. To this end, CCTV Sports Channel decided to immediately suspend the current broadcast arrangements of the NBA preseason (China games) and immediately investigate all cooperation and exchanges involving the NBA.”
The Chinese Consulate General in Houston released a statement echoing those sentiments:
“We are deeply shocked by the erroneous comments on Hong Kong made by Mr. Daryl Morey, general manager of the Houston Rockets. 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.
“At the moment, ending violence and chaos and restoring order has become the widest common consensus and the strongest appeal of all social sectors in Hong Kong. Anybody with conscience would support the efforts made by the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to safeguard Hong Kong’s social stability.”
(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)