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NBA Commissioner Defends Free Speech: ‘We Will Have to Live With Those Consequences’

Tobias Hoonhout

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver defended Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey in the aftermath of a since-deleted pro-Hong Kong tweet that drew Chinese backlash, saying on Tuesday that the league is not apologizing for Morey’s statement.

“Daryl Morey, as general manager of the Houston Rockets, enjoys that right as one of our employees,” Silver said during a press conference before a preseason game between the Rockets and the Toronto Raptors in Tokyo. “What I also tried to suggest is that I understand there are consequences from his freedom of speech and we will have to live with those consequences.”

Silver’s development comes after the NBA received heavy criticism for its statement on the situation Sunday, which attempted to distance the league from Morey and claimed “We have great respect for the history and culture of China.”

The tweet, which Morey sent last Friday, came as the league is ramping up its preseason schedule, which includes several games in Japan and China. The blowback was swift: Rockets legend Yao Ming, head of the Chinese basketball association, suspended cooperation with his former franchise, and Chinese streaming giant Tencent announced it would not show Rockets games for the upcoming season. 

Silver’s newest comments drew additional penalties. After the remarks, Chinese broadcaster CCTV revealed it would not broadcast the two NBA exhibition games in China this week between the Brooklyn Nets — owned by Alibaba co-founder Joe Tsai — and the Los Angeles Lakers.

“We’re strongly dissatisfied and oppose Adam Silver’s claim to support Morey’s right to freedom of expression,” CCTV said in a statement. “We believe that any remarks that challenge national sovereignty and social stability are not within the scope of freedom of speech.” CCTV also stated it is reviewing all partnerships involving the NBA in the fallout of the situation.

“I’m sympathetic to our interests here and our partners that 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.” The commissioner will be heading to China Wednesday and said he hopes to meet with league partners to help improve the situation.

After the league’s initial statement, which called the reaction to Morey’s statements “regrettable,” numerous American lawmakers have urged the league to stand up to the Chinese and respect American values. Silver appeared to address those calls in a statement released before the press conference, saying “But for those who question our motivation, this is far more than about growing our business.”

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