NBA draws bipartisan backlash over China response

The NBA is facing backlash over its response to a statement made by the Houston Rockets' general manager that prompted a fierce reaction from China. 

Daryl Morey in a tweet on Friday voiced support for the thousands of protesters that have taken to the streets of Hong Kong in recent weeks, writing: "Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.”

The demonstrations in the special autonomous region, which until the mid-1990s was a British colony, have turned notably violent in recent days, as protesters seek to pressure the local government over its close ties to Beijing.

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In response to Morey's statement, the Chinese Basketball Association suspended ties with the Rockets, despite the fact that Morey deleted his initial tweet. He also later issued a statement on Twitter, saying he did not intend "to cause any offense to Rockets fans and friends of mine in China."

The NBA issued its own statement later on Sunday, saying it recognized that Morey's comments "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 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."

The statement drew immediate backlash online, with journalists and U.S. lawmakers from both parties slamming it. 

Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) was one of the first lawmakers to weigh in on the statement, calling it "shameful."

"It’s clear that the @NBA is more interested in money than human rights. Tonight’s statement from Commissioner Silver is an absolute joke," he wrote, referring to Adam Silver.

"The NBA is kowtowing to Beijing to protect their bottom line and disavowing those with the temerity to #standwithHongKong. Shameful!" 

Sen. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyHillicon Valley: Facebook bans ads from pro-Trump PAC | Uber reports big drop in revenue | US offers M reward for election interference info Senate passes legislation to ban TikTok on federal devices Yates spars with GOP at testy hearing MORE (R-Mo.) criticized the statement and referenced alleged human rights abuses in China, including the repression of Uighur Muslims.

"Chinese govt has a million people locked in concentration camps & is trying to brutally repress Hong Kong demonstrators - and NBA wants to 'bridge cultural divides'? Cultural divides?" he asked in a tweet.

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzOn The Trail: Pence's knives come out Pat Fallon wins GOP nomination in race to succeed DNI Ratcliffe The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the Air Line Pilots Association - Negotiators 'far apart' as talks yield little ahead of deadline MORE (R-Texas) slammed the statement, accusing the NBA of putting money over human rights.

"As a lifelong @HoustonRockets fan, I was proud to see @dmorey call out the Chinese Communist Party’s repressive treatment of protestors in Hong Kong," Cruz tweeted.

"Now, in pursuit of big $$, the @nba is shamefully retreating. We’re better than this; human rights shouldn’t be for sale & the NBA shouldn’t be assisting Chinese communist censorship." 

Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'RourkeBeto O'RourkeBeto O'Rourke calls Texas GOP 'a death cult' over coronavirus response Hegar, West to face off in bitter Texas Senate runoff Bellwether counties show trouble for Trump MORE called it an "embarrassment."

"The only thing the NBA should be apologizing for is their blatant prioritization of profits over human rights," the former Texas representative tweeted. "What an embarrassment." 

Sen. Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzLobbying world Overnight Defense: House passes defense bill that Trump threatened to veto | Esper voices concerns about officers wearing military garb Senate rejects broad restrictions on transfers of military-grade equipment to police MORE (D-Hawaii) called the statement "a mistake that they should fix quickly."

Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.) called the statement a "disgrace."

"Stop putting the almighty [dollar emoji] before human rights, for once," he added.

Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) tweeted that the "@NBA = no backbone, apparently."

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynCOVID-19 bill limiting liability would strike the wrong balance From a Republican donor to Senate GOP: Remove marriage penalty or risk alienating voters Skepticism grows over Friday deadline for coronavirus deal MORE (R-Texas) on Sunday night retweeted Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro, who had earlier in the day criticized China's threats in response to Morey's initial tweet. "Julián, glad to agree with you on this one," Cornyn wrote.

Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta tweeted Friday that Morey does not speak for the franchise and that the team is not a political organization.

Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael Swalwell'This already exists': Democrats seize on potential Trump executive order on preexisting conditions Swalwell: Barr has taken Michael Cohen's job as Trump's fixer The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Chris Christie says Trump team wasn't aggressive enough early in COVID-19 crisis; Tensions between White House, Fauci boil over MORE (D-Calif.) on Sunday hit Fertitta for "siding with communism."

"Listen ... some things are more important than money. Like doing the right thing," he wrote.

"@dmorey tweeted about human rights and supporting #HongKongProtests. How ironic that you’re siding with communism to advance your greed." 

The Rockets have been one of the most popular teams in China since picking Hall of Fame center Yao Ming first in the 2002 NBA Draft.

This report was updated on Oct. 7 at 8:15 a.m.