No Silver lining for NBA as chief's remarks spark new China outrage

The NBA chief's reaction to a Houston Rockets executive's improper tweet regarding Hong Kong sparks a new uproar in China.

The National Basketball Association chief’s comments on backing “freedom of expression” have sparked a new uproar among Chinese Internet users, already angry over a Houston Rockets executive’s earlier improper tweet regarding Hong Kong.

The tweet by Rockets general manager Daryl Morey backing protests in Hong Kong on Saturday had led to Chinese sponsors, the China Media Group and the Chinese Basketball Association terminating cooperation and severing all ties with Yao Ming’s former team.

But in his first public comments on the controversy, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver insisted his organization supported the right of Morey to express his opinions.

“I think as a values-based organization I want to make it clear... that Daryl Morey is supported in terms of his ability to exercise his freedom of expression,” Silver told Japan’s Kyodo News agency late on Monday.

“There are the values that have been part of this league from its earliest days, and that includes free expression,” he added, speaking in Japan, where the Rockets and Toronto Raptors play exhibition games this week.

Silver also addressed the financial impacts for the Rockets and the NBA in the Chinese market, the American league’s most lucrative outside of the United States.

“There is no doubt, the economic impact is already clear,” he said.

“There have already been fairly dramatic consequences from that tweet.”

The remarks quickly stirred furore among Chinese netizens. One quote on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, said, “Silver is definitely using double standards over ‘free speech.’ Why did he deliver the swiftest, strongest penalty toward Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for making racist comments?”

In 2014, Silver banned Sterling, fined him US$2.5 million and forced him to sell the team.

Meanwhile, Chinese entertainers, including Li Yifeng, Fan Chengcheng and Wu Jinyan, on Tuesday announced on social media that they had withdrawn from all NBA events, including preseason games in China.

Special Reports