China suspends ties with Houston Rockets after manager tweets support for Hong Kong protests

China suspends ties with Houston Rockets after manager tweets support for Hong Kong protests
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The Chinese Basketball Association has suspended its relationship with the Houston Rockets after the team's general manager expressed support for protestors in Hong Kong in since-deleted Friday tweet.

Daryl Morey said in the tweet to “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.” Just hours later, Rockets owner Tillman Fertitta tweeted that Morey did not speak for the franchise.

"Listen....@dmorey does NOT speak for the @HoustonRockets," he wrote. "Our presence in Tokyo is all about the promotion of the @NBA internationally and we are NOT a political organization."

Nonetheless, the tweet elicited a strong reaction from China, even after it was deleted.

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The Chinese Basketball Association on Sunday announced it was suspending cooperation with the Rockets, cutting off an important link between the franchise and its Chinese fans, according to Global Times.

Tencent Holdings, the exclusive digital partner of the NBA in China, said Sunday it would suspend media coverage of anything related to Morey.

"If you want to switch your support to the other team, we will accommodate the request," the platform said to its members in a post on the social media site Weibo.

China Central Television similarly announced they would stop broadcasting Rockets games. 

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The Chinese Consulate in Houston even stepped in, saying in a statement that it had contacted the Rockets about the tweet.

"We are deeply shocked by the erroneous comments on Hong Kong made by Mr. Daryl Morey, general manager of the Houston Rockets," it said Sunday.

"We have lodged representations and expressed strong dissatisfaction with the Houston Rockets, and urged the latter to correct the error and take immediate concrete measures to eliminate the adverse impact."

Protestors have demonstrated for months in Hong Kong. Initially in response to a law allowing suspected criminals to be extradited to China, the protests have morphed into a pro-democracy and anti-government movement.

The chief executive of the semi-autonomous city, Carrie Lam, withdrew the bill last month, but protests have continued and even expanded.

They have also grown more violent. Earlier this month police fired live rounds at protestors, critically injuring at least one person.

Hong Kong was guaranteed a legal system independent of Beijing when it was transferred from British rule in 1997 under a "one country, two systems" order.

The Chinese government has hit back against international criticism of its handling of the protests, urging foreign powers to stay out its internal affairs.

Morey released a statement Sunday emphasizing that his tweets do not represent the Rocket's organization.

"I did not intend my tweet to cause any offense to Rockets fans and friends of mine in China. I was merely voicing one thought, based on one interpretation, of one complicated event. I have had a lot of opportunity since that tweet to hear and consider other perspectives," he tweeted Sunday.

"I have always appreciated the significant support our Chinese fans and sponsors have provided and I would hope that those who are upset will know that offending or misunderstanding them was not my intention. My tweets are my own and in no way represent the Rockets or the NBA."

The Chinese media market is crucial to the NBA, and to the Rockets in particular.

The Houston franchise has been one of the most followed in China since picking Hall of Fame center Yao Ming first in the 2002 NBA Draft.

According to a study released last month, the Rockets were the second-most popular NBA team in China by online engagement last season.

The NBA released a statement Sunday acknowledging that Morey's tweet offended many fans in China.

"We recognize the views of Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey have deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China, which is regrettable," the NBA said, according to New York Times reporter Sopan Deb.

"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."

This report was updated at 8:45 pm