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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 HawleyDeSantis, Pence tied in 2024 Republican poll Chamber of Commerce clarifies stance on lawmakers who voted against election certification Crenshaw pours cold water on 2024 White House bid: 'Something will emerge' 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 Cruz Cruz puts hold on Biden's CIA nominee It will be Vice (or) President Harris against Gov. DeSantis in 2024 — bet on it Senate rejects Cruz effort to block stimulus checks for undocumented immigrants 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'RourkeTexas Republican criticizes Cruz for Cancun trip: 'When a crisis hits my state, I'm there' Progressives target 'Cancun Cruz' in ad to run on 147 Texas radio stations 'Get off TV': Critics blast Abbott over handling of Texas power outages following winter storm 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 SchatzSenate inches toward COVID-19 vote after marathon session Minimum wage setback revives progressive calls to nix Senate filibuster Little known Senate referee to play major role on Biden relief plan 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 CornynSenate holds longest vote in history as Democrats scramble to save relief bill Biden gets involved to help break Senate logjam Overnight Defense: Capitol Police may ask National Guard to stay | Biden's Pentagon policy nominee faces criticism | Naval Academy midshipmen moved to hotels 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 SwalwellDid Eric Swalwell offer vindication for Donald Trump with his lawsuit? The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by ExxonMobil - Senate begins marathon vote-a-rama before .9T COVID-19 relief passage Trump sued by Democrat over mob attack on Capitol 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.