Ever since Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted support of the anti-government protests in Hong Kong, the relationship between the NBA and China has been in turmoil. China, the second biggest NBA market, is flexing its muscles over an NBA GM’s use of free speech. China does not believe in speech freedom.
In response to the tweet, China has suspended all viewing of NBA games within its country. In further development, nearly all of the NBA’s Chinese partners have announced they are either ending or suspending their relationships with the league. Eleven of thirteen companies listed on the NBA China website have publicly distanced themselves from the league including Crip.com, Anta Sports, Migu Video, EHi Car Rental, among others.
Morey’s tweet was quickly deleted and apologized for. However, the backlash has reached a level that no one could have imagined. The NBA released a statement saying they were deeply apologetic for offending the league’s Chinese fan. Yet, NBA Comissioner, Adam Silver, did stand by Morey’s right to express his opinion and said the NBA would “protect its employees’ freedom of speech”.
On Tuesday a man was arrested in China after threatening to burn the national flag on social media while wearing a Houston Rockets jersey. The post includes Howard Wang, a 25 year-old with a photo of himself appearing on the verge of burning the flag, with the caption “I live and die with the team”. According to reports, Wang told police to “come and arrest him.” Flag desecration is illegal in China and violators could face up to three years in prison.
It’s very likely that preseason games scheduled to be played in China will be canceled. The story remains fluid.