Freedom of expression does not extend to issues China deems untouchable, the Taiwanese-Canadian owner of the NBA's Brooklyn Nets said Monday (Oct 7) as he weighed in on the Houston Rockets pro-democracy tweet crisis.
But China takes a hard line against outside influence on its territory-the island of Hong Kong was handed over to the Chinese in 1997, after it had been a British colony-and Morey's tweet drew swift reaction on the Chinese mainland.
"We have lodged representations and expressed strong dissatisfaction with the Houston Rockets, and urged the latter to correct the error and take immediate concrete measures to eliminate the adverse impact", the consulate general's office said in a statement on Sunday.
Two companies - sportswear brand Li-Ning and sponsor Shanghai Pudong Development Bank (SPD Bank) Credit Card Center - had said Sunday that they were suspending their cooperation with the Houston team.
The Rockets are among the NBA's most-popular teams in China and have had a huge fan base in the country since drafting Yao Ming.
"I did not intend my tweet to cause any offense to Rockets fans and friends of mine in China", he tweeted.
The team is trying to downplay the furor, distancing itself from the general manager's comment.
Morey retreated from his earlier post, tweeting an explanation while reiterating the words were his own, not the Rockets' or the NBA's.
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As the situation in Hong Kong intensifies, businesses have been increasingly caught in the crosshairs. Taking note of a certain meekness in other corporate suites, he said, "I think in this day and age, you really do have to stand for something". "I was merely voicing one thought, based on one interpretation, of one complicated event". The NBA is a fan-first league.
One of those people is superstar James Harden who offered an apology to the country.
The moves came after the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) said it would sever ties with the Rockets over Morey's "incorrect comments". "Everything is fine with Daryl and me". Prior to All-Star Weekend in 2018, he said he was proud of the league's stars for how they use their platform to discuss issues personal to them.
The divergent language in the NBA's Chinese Weibo statement appears to be an effort to assuage people in China who have expressed outrage over Morey's initial tweet, though Monday's post appeared to be insufficient for many on Weibo.
"Now, in pursuit of big $$, the (NBA) is shamefully retreating", Cruz tweeted. "We played in China last year, and it was an incredible experience for our team and our organization, we felt that support all of last year into this year". And we appreciate the support that they give us individually and as an organization.
The NBA's response echoed the cautious approach other companies have been taking in an effort not to offend China, but it immediately generated protests from US politicians.
In a lengthy open letter, Tsai defends the anger directed against Morey as a product of a painful Chinese history, which should apparently allow them to treat Hong Kong protesters as a "separatist movement" that must be suppressed.