NBA commissioner seeks to shift message on China with new statement

NBA commissioner seeks to shift message on China with new statement
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NBA Commissioner Adam Silver issued a new statement Tuesday as the sports league battled accusations from lawmakers in both parties that it had bowed to pressure from China in expressing regret over an executive's tweet of support for demonstrators in Hong Kong. 

Silver said he recognized that the league's initial statement had left people "angered, confused or unclear on who we are or what the NBA stands for," and then insisted it would continue to offer support for free expression by players and executives.

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At the same time, Silver made it clear the NBA would not be taking sides in the political dispute over civil rights in Hong Kong. 

"It is inevitable that people around the world — including from America and China — will have different viewpoints over different issues. It is not the role of the NBA to adjudicate those differences," Silver said in the statement.

"However, the NBA will not put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees and team owners say or will not say on these issues. We simply could not operate that way."

The NBA found itself at the center of controversy after Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey tweeted support for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. Morey's tweet said, "Fight for freedom. Stand with Hong Kong."

The tweet, later deleted by Morey, sparked anger in China, as several media networks and the Chinese Basketball Association cut ties with the league. Chinese Central Television refused to show a Rockets preseason game.

Reports that Morey could be disciplined or even fired over the tweets initially circulated, and Silver in a statement expressed regret that people in China had been hurt by Morey's tweet.

That reaction set off a firestorm in Washington, where lawmakers blistered the NBA with criticism.

Democratic presidential candidate and native Texan Beto O'RourkeBeto O'RourkeVeronica Escobar to give Spanish-language response to Trump State of the Union address Biden calls for revoking key online legal protection Trump mocks Booker over suspended presidential campaign MORE called Silver's response "shameful."

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzTrump, Democrats risk unintended consequences with impeachment arguments Impeachment trial to enter new phase with Trump defense Jordan says he thinks trial will be over by next week MORE (R-Texas), a known Rockets fan, tweeted, "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." 

In the new statement, Silver insisted the NBA was not just trying to grow its business in China.

"For those who question our motivation, this is about far more than growing our business," Silver said.

He said the NBA had "developed a great affinity" for the people of China and had seen how basketball could deepen ties between the United States and China.

"Values of equality, respect and freedom of expression have long defined the NBA – and will continue to do so. As an American-based basketball league operating globally, among our greatest contributions are these values of the game," he said.

"At the same time, we recognize that our two countries have different political systems and beliefs. And like many global brands, we bring our business to places with different political systems around the world." 

Silver also said sports "can be a unifying force that focuses on what we have in common as human beings rather than our differences."