NBA-China Controversy: Yao Ming, Adam Silver, Fan Arrest, 9/11 And More Developments

NBA store, Beijing

Getty NBA store, Beijing

It has now been five days since Rockets general manager Daryl Morey sent out a tweet supporting anti-China protestors in Hong Kong.

Morey could have had no idea the now-deleted tweet would touch off nearly a week of controversy. The NBA tried to quickly quell the matter with apologies disavowing Morey’s sentiment from Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta, Rockets star James Harden and the league office.

Still, the NBA has continued to take criticism at home and in China. And there has been more fallout from Tuesday and Wednesday:

Adam Silver Finds His Footing With Another Statement

NBA commissioner Adam Silver was uncomfortable with the notion of leaving Morey dangling in the wind as the league rushed to soothe irate Chinese officials, as was the case with the league’s first statement, which suggested support for “individuals’ educating themselves.” That was the perception back in the U.S. and Silver addressed that criticism by releasing a new statement and discussing the matter in a press conference.

In it, Silver tried to thread the needle a bit more delicately—supporting Morey without apology while also respecting Chinese autonomy and insisting the league has no interest in telling other countries how to run their governments.

“It is inevitable that people around the world – including from America and China – will have different viewpoints over different issues,” Silver said. “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.”

China Rejected Silver’s Statement, Compared Hong Kong to 9/11

Unhappy with what it called an “about-face” on an apology for the Morey tweet, state-run media operation CCTV announced on Tuesday that it would not broadcast the games between the Lakers and Nets, who will play twice in Shenzen this week. Two NBA Cares events were canceled as well as pregame press conferences. The games remain in question.

“We’re strongly dissatisfied and oppose Adam Silver’s claim to support Morey’s right to freedom of expression,” CCTV said in a statement. “We believe that any remarks that challenge national sovereignty and social stability are not within the scope of freedom of speech.”

Another state-run media organ, the Global Times, wrote that the incident ought to bring to mind the attacks of September 11, 2001, in which nearly 3,000 Americans were killed. “(It) should remind Western media that for Chinese people, the Hong Kong riots are just like the 9/11, which is horrible and can’t be justified,” the paper claimed.

The Rockets Are Being Scrubbed from China

At least, this video seems to suggest that:

Yao Ming is Not Happy With His Former Team

Yao is now the president of the Chinese Basketball Association, which has cut ties with the Rockets, an especially painful choice considering Yao spent his entire NBA career with the Rockets and was a player under Morey’s leadership as Rockets GM for the final four years of his career. But Yao, like many Chinese, was angered by Morey’s support for Hong Kong protestors.

Silver acknowledged that on Tuesday and said he hopes to meet with Yao to resolve the impasse. Silver will be in Shanghai on Wednesday.

“I am hoping that together, Yao Ming and I can find an accommodation,” Silver said. “But he is extremely hot at the moment and I understand it.”

Chinese Rockets Fan Arrested

After threatening to burn the Chinese flag, a man wearing a Rockets jersey was arrested in the northeastern province of Jilin, according to a report on

The man, 25-year-old Howard Wang, posted the threat on Weibo, which is essentially Chinese Twitter. Wang was holding a lighter next to the national flag. He was arrested for publishing “insults directed at the national flag.” The charge has a prison term of up to three years.

Gregg Popovich Called Silver, ‘A Heck of a Leader,’ Swiped at Trump

Tuesday night, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich offered his support for Silver’s statement and press conference, pointing out that Silver has been a strong leader for the league on domestic social issues, dating back to the removal of Clippers owner Donald Sterling in 2014 after Sterling was taped making racist remarks.

“Adam is a very progressive leader,” Popovich said, according to “We all remember how he handled the situation with the former owner of the Clippers. It made everybody proud because it was the right thing to do. A couple of years ago, I was walking the streets in New York City during the gay pride parade. I turned around and here comes a float, and Adam is standing on a float with a big sign in support of LGBTQ. And I felt great again, just like I did with the Clipper deal.

“He came out strongly for freedom of speech (today). I felt great again. He’s been a heck of a leader in that respect and very courageous.”

Popovich then pivoted to one of his favorite targets when issues outside of basketball arise—President Donald Trump.

“You compare it to what we’ve had to live through the past three years, it’s a big difference,” Popovich said. “A big gap there, leadership-wise and courage-wise. It wasn’t easy for him to say. He said that in an environment fraught with possible economic peril. But he sided with the principles that we all hold dearly, or most of us did until the last three years.”

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