It’s one of the NBA’s most popular teams in China.
But outraged Chinese companies have cut ties with the Houston Rockets after the team’s general manager tweeted his support of the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
The basketball league’s carefully plotted strategic emphasis on China has been thrown into chaos after Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted an image on Friday with the words “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong”.
James Harden of the Houston Rockets wears a Lunar New Year jersey. The team has a massive following in China. Picture: Matthew Stockman/Getty ImagesSource:AFP
The tweet was quickly deleted, The Wall Street Journal reports, but the damage was done.
Chinese sponsors were quick to react, pulling money from the franchise, while Chinese broadcast partners are now refusing to air Rockets games.
To top it off, the Chinese Basketball Association has suspended its ties with the team.
Daryl Morey, general manager of the Houston Rockets, with his wife Ellen. Picture: AFPSource:AFP
Mr Morey appeared to go into damage control, tweeting on Sunday night that his views did not represent the Houston Rockets, who are playing an exhibition game in Tokyo, or the NBA.
The team has had a huge following in China since the selection of Yao Ming in 2002.
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“I did not intend my tweet to cause any offence to Rockets fans and friends of mine in China,” Mr Morey wrote.
“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.
“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 wasn’t my intention.”
Houston Rockets power forward Isaiah Hartenstein provides instructions during an NBA Cares basketball clinic by the team in Tokyo, The Rockets are in Tokyo to play two exhibition matches this week. Picture: AFPSource:AFP
NBA spokesman Mike Bass said the “history and culture of China” had the league’s utmost respect.
“The values of the league support individuals’ educating themselves and sharing their views on matters important to them,” Mr Bass said.
“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.”
Protesters gather outside the Eastern District Courts in Hong Kong following a violent weekend of unrest which saw bloody clashes with police and widespread vandalism that crippled the city’s train network. Picture: AFPSource:AFP
The original tweet has put billions of dollars at stake for the NBA, which has a massive audience in China. Over 500 million people in China watched the NBA on Tencent’s streaming platforms last season, the Wall Street Journal says.
The NBA has long viewed China as the engine of future international growth, The Wall Street journal reports, and often boasts about the country’s basketball population of 300 million players.
Originally published asWhy China is so angry at the NBA
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