Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey apologized Sunday for a now-deleted tweet in support of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, and NBA officials, American lawmakers and the Chinese government had plenty to say about it.
Morey said he did not mean to offend the team’s “significant support” among Chinese fans and sponsors when he posted an image that read: "Fight For Freedom. Stand With Hong Kong." The notion was quickly rejected by team owner Tilman Fertitta.
“I was merely voicing one thought, based on one interpretation, of one complicated event,” Morey said. “I have had a lot of opportunity since that tweet to hear and consider other perspectives.”
Earlier, a Chinese sportswear maker, two banks that sponsored the Rockets and a Chinese broadcaster that aired games bailed on the team, according to Reuters.
The sportswear maker, Li-Ning, expressed “strong condemnation” of Morey's tweet, saying in a statement it had suspended cooperation with the Rockets, and one of the banks, SPD, said it had halted marketing and publicity activities with them, Reuters reported.
In Houston, the Chinese consulate also weighed in Sunday, saying officials were “deeply shocked” by Morey’s comments and urging the team to “take immediate concrete measures to eliminate the adverse impact.”
In a statement Sunday, NBA chief communications officer Mike Bass called Morey's tweet “regrettable” and said the league had “great respect for the history and culture of China.”
“The NBA can be used as a unifying force to bridge cultural divides and bring people together,” Bass said.
Rockets superstar James Harden also pushed back on Morey's statements. "We apologize. You know, we love China. We love playing there,” Harden said in Tokyo on Monday at a practice standing next to teammate Russell Westbrook, ESPN reported. “For both of us individually, we go there once or twice a year. They show us the most important love.”
Elected officials from across the political divide blasted the NBA and China, including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican, and Texas Rep. Julián Castro, a Democratic presidential hopeful, saying they supported Morey.