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NBA commissioner Adam Silver said that the basketball league had faced “dramatic” financial consequences and the Chinese government asked him to sack Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey over his tweet backing Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protest movement.
Silver speaking at the Time 100 Health summit delivered his most candid remarks since major Chinese sponsors cut ties with the league over the tweet.
He told the summit that the financial cost of the fallout have been, and could continue to be, “fairly dramatic.”
Silver added that NBA games are still not airing in China after state-owned TV station CCTV announced it would not broadcast NBA games after Silver defended Morey’s right to express his views after he tweeted “Fight for freedom. Stand with Hong Kong” on October 4.
He also claimed that China’s government asked Silver to fire Morey, to which Silver apparently responded: “There’s no chance that’s happening.” China’s foreign ministry spokesman denied that Beijing ever made the request, Reuters reported.
It appears Morey was not reprimanded by the league for his actions, as Silver added that there’s “no chance we’ll even discipline him.”
Crucial quote: Silver said: “I felt we had made enormous progress in terms of building cultural exchanges with the Chinese people. And, again, I have regret that much of that was lost. And I’m not even sure where we’ll go from here, but the direct answer to your question is the financial consequences have been and may continue to be fairly dramatic.”
Morey’s tweet sparked an angry reaction from the Chinese government and triggered a free speech dispute in the U.S. after the NBA described the tweet at “regrettable.” U.S. fans and lawmakers slammed the NBA for its response, widely viewed as a bid to safeguard commercial interests in China, which is a $4 billion market for the NBA. Basketball star LeBron James later faced backlash for saying Morey “wasn’t educated on the situation.”
Chinese sponsors cut ties with the league, while Tencent, which is the league’s biggest international partner after signing a reported $1.5 billion streaming deal, resumed its live-stream of NBA games after a five-day pause. At the start of the week, China’s state-owned media began to restore coverage of the NBA, over concerns that the fallout was hurting China’s image overseas.
The dispute, and Silver’s latest revelations, demonstrate the extent to which China has wielded the threat of being locked out of its huge domestic market, the world’s second-largest economy, to force foreign companies to toe the line set by its communist rulers. Protests that have rocked Hong Kong since June have been a particularly raw nerve, with Beijing denouncing the demonstrations and threatening to crack down on what it views as a separatist movement.