(NEW YORK) — NBA commissioner Adam Silver has voiced his support for Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, whose pro-Hong Kong tweet set off a firestorm of debate.
At a press conference in Japan Tuesday, Silver said the NBA will protect its employees’ freedom of speech.
“The long-held values of the NBA are to support freedom of expression and certainly freedom of expression by members of the NBA community,” the commissioner said.
Overnight, Silver also released a statement:
I recognize our initial statement left people angered, confused or unclear on who we are or what the NBA stands for. Let me be more clear.
Over the last three decades, the NBA has developed a great affinity for the people of China. We have seen how basketball can be an important form of people-to-people exchange that deepens ties between the United States and China.
At the same time, we recognize that our two countries have different political systems and beliefs. And like many global brands, we bring our business to places with different political systems around the world.
But for those who question our motivation, this is about far more than growing our business.
Values of equality, respect and freedom of expression have long defined the NBA — and will continue to do so. As an American-based basketball league operating globally, among our greatest contributions are these values of the game.
In fact, one of the enduring strengths of the NBA is our diversity — of views, backgrounds, ethnicities, genders and religions. Twenty-five percent of NBA players were born outside of the United States and our colleagues work in league offices around the world, including in Beijing, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Taipei.
With that diversity comes the belief that whatever our differences, we respect and value each other; and, what we have in common, including a belief in the power of sports to make a difference, remains our bedrock principle.
It is inevitable that people around the world — including from America and China — will have different viewpoints over different issues. It is not the role of the NBA to adjudicate those differences.
However, the NBA will not put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees and team owners say or will not say on these issues. We simply could not operate that way.
Basketball runs deep in the hearts and minds of our two peoples. At a time when divides between nations grow deeper and wider, we believe sports can be a unifying force that focuses on what we have in common as human beings rather than our differences.
The backlash began when Morey tweeted an image that read “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong” last week, supporting pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong. Morey deleted the tweet but it prompted Chinese state television and internet giant Tencent — who inked a five-year, $1.5 billion deal in August to stream NBA games in China — to announce they will not show Rockets games.
Furthermore, former Rockets star Yao Ming announced that the Chinese Basketball Association, which he is president of, is suspending its relationship with the Rockets.
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