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.
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!"
It’s clear that the @NBA is more interested in money than human rights. Tonight’s statement from Commissioner Silver is an absolute joke.— Rick Scott (@SenRickScott) October 7, 2019
The NBA is kowtowing to Beijing to protect their bottom line and disavowing those with the temerity to #standwithHongKong. Shameful! https://t.co/RBPJa04xzK
Sen. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyMcConnell backs Herschel Walker in Georgia Senate race Flake, Cindy McCain among latest Biden ambassadors confirmed after delay Thune endorses Herschel Walker in Georgia Senate race 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.
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? https://t.co/d6jXQOzb5F— Josh Hawley (@HawleyMO) October 6, 2019
Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzFlake, Cindy McCain among latest Biden ambassadors confirmed after delay Overnight Health Care — Presented by Carequest — Colin Powell's death highlights risks for immunocompromised The Senate confirmation process is broken — Senate Democrats can fix it 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."
We’re better than this; human rights shouldn’t be for sale & the NBA shouldn’t be assisting Chinese communist censorship.— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) October 6, 2019
Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'RourkeBeto O'RourkeSupport for governors sliding in states without vaccine mandates: survey Abbott bans vaccine mandates from any 'entity in Texas' Abbott disapproval rating up 8 points to 59 percent in San Antonio area: poll MORE called it an "embarrassment."
The only thing the NBA should be apologizing for is their blatant prioritization of profits over human rights. What an embarrassment. https://t.co/bbiwCBTwc1— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) October 6, 2019
Sen. Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzClimate advocates turn sights on Wall Street To sustain humanity COP26 must lead on both climate and biodiversity Democrats struggle to sell Biden plan amid feuding MORE (D-Hawaii) called the statement "a mistake that they should fix quickly."
This is a mistake that they should fix quickly. https://t.co/qNmKNTdksV— Brian Schatz (@brianschatz) October 6, 2019
Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.) called the statement a "disgrace."
"Stop putting the almighty [dollar emoji] before human rights, for once," he added.
The @NBA statement is a disgrace. Stop putting the almighty before human rights, for once.— US Rep Brendan Boyle (@RepBrendanBoyle) October 6, 2019
Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) tweeted that the "@NBA = no backbone, apparently."
Sen. John CornynJohn CornynSenators urge Biden to waive sanctions on India over Russian defense system purchase Bipartisan lawmakers target judges' stock trading with new bill Cornyn raises more than M for Senate GOP 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.
Julián, glad to agree with you on this one. https://t.co/0V7PHY1iIW— Senator John Cornyn (@JohnCornyn) October 6, 2019
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 SwalwellMo Brooks says he would 'be proud' if staff helped organize Jan. 6 rally GOP ekes out win in return of Congressional Baseball Game Greene heckles Democrats and they fire back on Capitol steps 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.
Listen....some things are more important than money. Like doing the right thing. @dmorey tweeted about human rights and supporting #HongKongProtests. How ironic that you’re siding with communism to advance your greed. https://t.co/RoyJ3o3bbY— Rep. Eric Swalwell (@RepSwalwell) October 6, 2019
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.