Texas’ GOP Senators, Democratic Presidential Hopefuls Find Common Ground on NBA-China Spat

By Patrick Goodenough | October 7, 2019 | 4:40am EDT
A billboard outside the Toyota Center arena in downtown Houston promotes the Houston Rockets. (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) – The two Republican senators from Texas and two Texas Democrats running for the White House in 2020 found common ground on Sunday after the Houston Rockets basketball team found itself embroiled in controversy over a tweet supporting protestors in Hong Kong.

The kerfuffle began when the franchise’s general manager, Daryl Morey posted a tweet on Friday featuring the slogan, “Fight For Freedom. Stand With Hong Kong.”

The Houston Rockets is one of the most popular NBA franchises in China, and the message, implicitly criticizing communist China’s policies towards its ostensibly semi-autonomous territory, caused an uproar.

“We are deeply shocked by the erroneous comments on Hong Kong made by Mr. Daryl Morey,” the Chinese Consulate in Houston said in a statement. “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.”

Morey deleted the tweet, but China’s CCTV state television said it was suspending broadcasts of Rockets games due to the “improper remarks” and Chinese technology giant Tencent, which has a NBA streaming deal, made a similar announcement.

Reuters reported that the Chinese Basketball Association, whose chairman is former Rockets star Yao Ming, China’s first ever No. 1 NBA draft pick, said it was suspending its relationship with the team as well.

Amid threats from sponsors, Morey, who is currently in Japan for two preseason Rockets games, posted an apologetic message on Twitter:

“I did not intend my tweet to cause any offense to Rockets fans and friends of mine in China. I was merely voicing one thought, based on one interpretation, of one complicated event. I have had a lot of opportunity since that tweet to hear and consider other perspectives,” he said.

“I have always appreciated the significant support our Chinese fans and sponsors have provided and I would hope that those who are upset will know that offending or misunderstanding them was not my intention. My tweets are my own and in no way represent the Rockets or the NBA.”

NBA spokesman Mike Bass said in a statement on Sunday: “We recognize that the views expressed by Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey have deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China, which is regrettable.”

“While Daryl has made it clear that his tweet does not represent the Rockets or the NBA, the values of the league support individuals’ educating themselves and sharing their views on matters important to them. We have great respect for the history and culture of China and hope that sports and the NBA can be used as a unifying force to bridge cultural divides and bring people together.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) expressed regret at the development.

“As a lifelong Houston Rockets fan, I was proud to see [Daryl Morey] call out the Chinese Communist Party’s repressive treatment of protestors in Hong Kong,” he tweeted. “Now, in pursuit of big $$, the [NBA] is shamefully retreating.”

Julián Castro, a former HUD Secretary and San Antonio mayor running for the Democratic 2020 presidential nomination, weighed in.

“China is using its economic power to silence critics – even those in the U.S.,” he tweeted. “The United States must lead with our values and speak out for pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong, and not allow American citizens to be bullied by an authoritarian government.”

“Julián, glad to agree with you on this one,” tweeted the state’s other senator, Republican Sen. John Cornyn.

“The only thing the NBA should be apologizing for is their blatant prioritization of profits over human rights,” tweeted former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, another Democratic presidential hopeful from Texas. “What an embarrassment.”

‘Fire him’

Residents of Hong Kong have been protesting for four months over policies pursued by the Beijing-backed authorities. The vast majority of the pro-democracy protests and protestors have been peaceful but outbreaks of violence and vandalism have occurred, along with heavy-handed actions by Hong Kong police.

U.S. lawmakers from both parties have voiced support for the demonstrators, in turn drawing angry accusations from Beijing of U.S. interference in China’s “internal affairs.”

In its statement condemning Morey’s tweet, the Chinese Consulate 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.”

The Communist Party-affiliated Global Times quoted several “netizens” – users of Chinese social media platforms such as Weibo – voicing outrage about Morey’s original tweet.

“I don’t care if Morey speaks for the Houston Rockets or not,” said one. “If the company does not fire him, it will say goodbye to the Chinese market.”

China Daily quoted Chinese basketball commentator Yang Yi as telling his nearly seven million followers on Weibo, “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,” Yang wrote. “China should make these institutions pay for [Morey’s comment].”

A recent survey by the Mailman Group, examining digital engagement in China, found that the Rockets were the second-most popular NBA franchise in the country, behind only the Golden State Warriors.

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