The NBA-China controversy, explained

Last Friday, Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey sparked international outrage with a single tweet expressing support for the protesters in Hong Kong.

The situation has escalated with Chinese broadcasters refusing to air NBA games and Chinese partners cutting ties with the league.

  • Jason Carr will host a live discussion at 11:30 a.m.

Here are the key points:


  • The NBA has spent years investing in the Chinese market, helping to build courts, giving broadcasting rights away for free and bringing star athletes over for preseason games.
    • When Yao Ming joined the Houston Rockets in 2002, the Rockets were established as "China's team."
    • China currently makes up 10% of the NBA's revenue, and was projected to make up 20% by 2030.
  • Pro-democracy protests are ongoing in Hong Kong.
    • Hong Kong is part of China, but its people have more rights than the mainland under a "one country, two systems" deal.
    • The protesters are angry about perceived interference from China's Communist Party in the Hong Kong government.
    • Police in Hong Kong have been accused of using excessive force against protesters by firing tear gas and rubber bullets at close range.

The Initial Controversy

  • On Friday, Oct. 4, Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey tweeted out his support for Hong Kong's pro-democracy protesters.
    • Morey posted an image that read, "Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong."
    • The tweet was soon deleted.
  • Rockets owner Tilman Fetitta responded hours later via Twitter:
    • ​​​​​​​ " 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 "
  • On Sunday, the Chinese Basketball Association announced it would suspend cooperation with the Rockets.
  • CCTV, China's top state broadcaster, said it would suspend airing Rockets events on television. Additionally, Chinese tech conglomerate Tencent said it would suspend live streaming of the games as well as any news reporting about the team.

The Controversy Grows

  • On Monday, the NBA posted a statement on Chinese social media site Weibo:
    • The statement said the league was "extremely disappointed" by Morey's "inappropriate" comment that "severely hurt the feelings of Chinese fans."
    • Soon after the statement was posted, discrepancies were discovered between what was said in Chinese and what was said in English.
    • NBA's spokesman Mike Bass delivered the original statement in English, which began: " We recognize that the views expressed by Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey have deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China, which is regrettable. "
    • The original statement did not include the terms "extremely disappointed," nor did it refer to Morey's comments as "inappropriate."
  • Both Republicans and Democrats criticized the NBA's response.
    • Marco Rubio : " Disgusting. They allow #China to punish a U.S. citizen for free speech in order to protect NBA's market access in China. Grotesque "
    • Chuck Schumer : "No one should implement a gag rule on Americans speaking out for freedom… I stand with Americans who want to voice their support for the people of Hong Kong."
    • Ted Cruz : "As a lifelong @HoustonRockets fan, I was proud to see @dmorey call out the Chinese Communist Party's repressive treatment of protestors in Hong Kong. Now, in pursuit of big $$, the @nba is shamefully retreating."
    • Julián Castro : "China is using its economic power to silence critics—even those in the U.S."
  • On Tuesday, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver issued another statement saying "the NBA will not put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees and team owners say or will not say."
  • CCTV in response said it would immediately halt all broadcasts of the NBA's preseason matches in China.
    • " We express our strong dissatisfaction and opposition to Silver's stated support of Morey's right to free speech, " the network said. "We believe any remarks that challenge national sovereignty and social stability do not belong to the category of free speech."
  • By Wednesday, all 11 of the NBA's official Chinese partners had suspended ties with the league.
  • Read more: How one tweet snowballed into the NBA's worst nightmare

Related developments

  • Houston Rockets Nike merchandise disappears from China stores [ article ]
    • Houston Rockets sneakers and other merchandise was removed from several Nike stores in major Chinese cities this week.
    • Managers at the stores told Reuters on Thursday that they received a memo from management that all Rockers merchandise had to be removed.
    • Several Nike stores removed all NBA products in general.
  • Apple removes police-tracking app used in Hong Kong protests from its app store [ article ]
    • On Wednesday, Apple Inc. removed an app that protesters in Hong Kong have been using to track police movements.
      • was a crowdsourcing app used to display police locations in Hong Kong.
    • The company removed the app after being criticized in the Chinese Communist Party's official newspaper, the People's Daily.
    • Apple said it's decision was made after learning that the app was being "used in ways that endanger law enforcement and residents in Hong Kong."
  • Blizzard Employees Staged a Walkout to Protest Ban of Pro-Hong Kong Gamer [ article ]
    • Professional Hearthstone gamer Chung Ng Wai, who uses the handle "Blitzchung," was banned from the game's pro league after expressing support for Hong Kong during an interview.
    • Blitzchung was forced to forfeit $10,000 of prize money he had already won.
    • A small group of the Activision Blizzard employees staged a walkout Tuesday to protest the company's actions against Blitzchung.
      • Activision Blizzard is the game publisher behind Hearthstone, as well as World of Warcraft and Overwatch.
    • Chinese tech giant Tencent owns a 5 percent stake in Blizzard, and the company earned 12 percent of its revenue from the Asia-Pacific region last quarter.
    • The move to ban Blitzchung has sparked a huge backlash against the company from gamers as well as non-gamers.

About the Author:

Brian is an Associate Producer for ClickOnDetroit. He graduated from the University of Michigan-Dearborn with a degree in Journalism and Screen Studies.