Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey put the NBA in an awkward position over the weekend when he tweeted his support for the Hong Kong anti-government protestors, drawing the ire of the China Consulate and Chinese Basketball Association, and now his players have joined the GM in a public apology.
With the Rockets in Tokyo for two preseason games against the Toronto Raptors, James Harden spoke in front of reporters at a practice on Monday and addressed the incident involving his GM.
“We apologize. You know, we love China,” he said, alongside teammate Russell Westbrook. “We love playing there. For both us individually, we go there once or twice a year. They show us the most important love.”
Morey’s tweet, which he later deleted, read: “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.”
The NBA has a business relationship with China as it attempts to grow the game in Asia, and the Rockets are perhaps the country’s most popular team due to Yao Ming playing his career in Houston. This week, the Los Angeles Lakers are scheduled to play the Brooklyn Nets in Shanghai and Shenzhen.
Morey apologized for his tweet on Sunday, saying he “did not intend to cause any offense to Rockets fans and friends of mine in China.”
The league, which has recently been supportive of players and coaches speaking out on social and human rights issues, released a statement distancing itself from Morey’s original tweet.
“We recognize that the views expressed by Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey have offended so many of our friends and fans in China, which is regrettable,” the statement read. “While Daryl has made it clear that his tweet does not represent the Rockets or the NBA, the values of the league support individuals’ educating themselves and sharing their views on matters important to them. We have great respect for the history and culture of China and hope that sports and the NBA can be used as a unifying force to bridge cultural divides and bring people together.”
Brooklyn Nets owner Joseph Tsai, a co-founder of Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba, also condemned Morey in a lengthy Facebook post on Sunday night, which said, “the hurt that this incident has caused will take a long time to repair.”
Morey was also criticized by his boss, Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta, who said Morey does not speak for the team and that they are not a political organization.
Texas politicians came to Morey’s defense, including Democratic presidential candidates Julian Castro and Beto O’Rourke, as well as Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas.
“We’re better than this; human rights shouldn’t be for sale & the NBA shouldn’t be assisting Chinese communist censorhips,” Cruz tweeted.
Added Castro: “China is using its economic power to silence critics — even those in the U.S.
“The United States must lead with our values and speak out for pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong, and not allow American citizens to be bullied by an authoritarian government.”