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Chinese groups rankled by NBA GM's tweet on HK

HENG WEILI in New York | Updated: 2019-10-07 06:43
Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey. [Photo/VCG]

To many basketball fans in China, the city of Houston, Texas, is a special place. It is where Hall of Famer Yao Ming played for eight NBA seasons, his popularity sparking a massive following of the sport in China.

But Daryl Morey, the general manager of Yao's former team, the Houston Rockets, disappointed many on the Chinese mainland Friday by tweeting in support of the violent protesters in Hong Kong, who have vandalized subway stations, the airport and shops. Morey posted an image with the message "Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong".

The tweet has since been deleted following criticism by Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta.

"Listen ... @dmorey does NOT speak for the @HoustonRockets. Our presence in Tokyo is all about the promotion of the @NBA internationally and we are NOT a political organization," Fertitta tweeted.

Tim McMahon of ESPN later tweeted that Fertitta told him: "Everything is fine with Daryl and me. We got a huge backlash, and I wanted to make clear that [the organization] has no [political] position. We're here to play basketball and not to offend anybody."

The Rockets are currently in Saitama, Japan, where they will participate in the National Basketball Association (NBA) Global games.

The Chinese Basketball Association (CBA), chaired by Yao, announced Sunday on Weibo, the Chinese microblogging website, that it has suspended exchanges and cooperation with the Rockets after Morey's tweet. The CBA said Morey had made "improper remarks regarding Hong Kong", to which it expressed its "strong opposition".

China Central Television's sports channel also announced that it will suspend cooperation and exchanges with the Rockets, including broadcasting.

Yao was the No. 1 pick by the Rockets in the 2002 NBA draft. The 7-foot-6 center averaged 19 points and 9 rebounds a game in his career. The Rockets honored Yao in 2017 by retiring his No. 11 jersey.

Yao, who owns the CBA's Shanghai Sharks in his native city, brought the team to Houston last week for a preseason game with the Rockets.

Last year, a version of the Rockets' uniforms featured Chinese characters. The Rockets' account on Weibo has more than 7 million followers.

Yang Yi, a famous basketball commentator in China, wrote to his nearly 7 million Weibo followers: "Although the West advocates complete freedom of speech, without basic understanding of major social and political issues, I do not think they should have the freedom to make such statements.

"The Rockets have received a lot of Chinese sponsorship in the past 17 years. ESPN has also made tens of millions of dollars annually in China over the past four years. China should make these institutions pay for it (Morey's comment)," Yang wrote.

The Chinese Consulate General in Houston issued a statement expressing dismay with Morey's tweet.

"We are deeply shocked by the erroneous comments on Hong Kong made by Mr. Daryl Morey, general manager of the Houston Rockets. 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 statement said.

"At the moment, ending violence and chaos and restoring order has become the widest common consensus and the strongest appeal of all social sectors in Hong Kong. Anybody with conscience would support the efforts made by the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to safeguard Hong Kong's social stability," the consulate said.

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