NBA star James Harden apologizes to China amid Hong Kong furor

Houston Rockets star James Harden on Monday apologized to China amid a backlash in that country to the team's general manager expressing support for Hong Kong protesters.

"We apologize. You know, we love China. We love playing there," Harden said at a practice in Tokyo, flanked by fellow All-Star guard Russell Westbrook.

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"For both of us individually, we go there once or twice a year. They show us the most important love. So we appreciate them as a fan base. We love everything there about them, and we appreciate the support that they give us individually and as an organization."

Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey in a since-deleted tweet on Friday voiced support for the thousands of protesters that have taken to the streets of Hong Kong in the last few months, writing, "Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.”

The demonstrations in the semi-autonomous city started as a protest of a law that would allow criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China but have since evolved into a broader pro-democracy movement.

In response to Morey's statement, the Chinese Basketball Association and several TV providers suspended ties with the Rockets

Morey issued a statement on Twitter Sunday, saying he did not intend "to cause any offense to Rockets fans and friends of mine in China."

The NBA issued its own statement, saying on Sunday it recognized that Morey's comments "have deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China, which is regrettable."

The NBA's position has been panned by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who have accused the league of putting money over human rights.

Sen. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyZuckerberg launches public defense of Facebook as attacks mount US ban on China tech giant faces uncertainty a month out Trump judicial nominee delayed amid GOP pushback MORE (R-Mo.), who criticized the NBA's handling of the situation on Sunday, called Harden's apology "sad" on Monday. 

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioTurkey says soldier killed despite cease-fire in Syria White House staggers after tumultuous 48 hours Erdoğan got the best of Trump, experts warn MORE (R-Fla.) also criticized Harden's comments, calling him hypocritical for speaking out about social issues in the U.S. but apologizing to China.

"NBA players have no problem speaking out on politics & social issues in America," he tweeted.

"But they apologize to #China for a pro democracy tweet from an @NBA team executive. Hypocrites"

NBA players have been increasingly outspoken about political and racial issues in recent years, and the NBA has generally encouraged such political discussion in the face of criticism from some conservatives.

But the NBA pushed back on Morey's tweet as organizations in China suspended their relationships with the Rockets.

The Hill has reached out to the Rockets about the reaction to Harden's remarks.

--Updated at 10:25 a.m.