World

NBA, Rockets under fire over HK protest tweet

SHANGHAI: The National Basketball Association (NBA) came under fire yesterday for its response to a tweet by a Houston Rockets official in support of Hong Kong protests for democracy, the latest overseas business to run afoul of political issues in China.

The Rockets' general manager, Mr Daryl Morey, apologised yesterday for the tweet he swiftly deleted over the weekend, but his support for the protests in Hong Kong angered Beijing, Chinese fans and the team's partners.

"I did not intend my tweet to cause any offence to Rockets fans and friends of mine in China," Mr Morey tweeted.

The Rockets are widely followed in China, partly because they drafted Chinese player Yao Ming in 2002, who became a star and helped build the NBA's following there.

In a separate statement, the NBA said "we recognise 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".

US lawmakers said the NBA's response was shameful and showed how China was using its economic power to censor speech by Americans in the United States.

"As a lifelong @HoustonRockets fan, I was proud to see @dmorey call out the Chinese Communist Party's repressive treatment of protesters in Hong Kong," Texas Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican, said on Twitter.

"Now, in pursuit of $$, the @NBA is shamefully retreating."

Other legislators accused the NBA, no stranger to US politics, of a double standard when it comes to China.

NBA stars and coaches have been outspoken in their criticism of US President Donald Trump, and NBA commissioner Adam Silver has urged players to speak out on issues including questions of alleged police brutality and gun violence.

Meanwhile, as of yesterday, searches for the Houston Rockets on Chinese e-commerce sites Taobao and Pinduoduo using Chinese characters yielded a "no results" message.

Searching for the names of other sports teams in Chinese yielded an abundant mixture of merchandise.

The Chinese Basketball Association, chaired by former Rockets star Yao, said it was suspending "exchanges and cooperation" with the team.

Some Chinese fans called for a boycott of the Rockets.

"I watched the Rockets for 21 years, but I am still a Chinese person first and foremost," one social media user said. - REUTERS

WORLD