Houston Rockets star James Harden offered an apology to China after a tweet from the Rockets' general manager expressed support for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong — and ended up costing the team significant business partnerships in the communist nation.
While standing next to teammate Russell Westbrook at a practice in Tokyo, ESPN said, Harden gave his mea culpa on the heels of Daryl Morey's now-deleted tweet that read: "Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong."
"We apologize, you know," Harden said. "You know, we love China. We love, you know, playing there. I know for both of us individually, we go there, you know, once or twice a year. They show us the most important love. So, you know, we appreciate them as a fan base, and we love everything, you know, thereabout. And we appreciate the support that they give us individually and as an organization. So, uh, you know, we love you." He then smiled and looked down.
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James Harden issues apology after tweet by team manager Daryl Morey youtu.be
Morey's tweet drew criticism from the Chinese Consulate-General in Houston, the Chinese Basketball Association — along with the Rockets' owner and the NBA.
"We are deeply shocked by the erroneous comments on Hong Kong made by Mr. Daryl Morey, general manager of the Houston Rockets," the consulate-general said in a statement. "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."
The Chinese Basketball Association severed ties with Rockets on the heels of Morey's tweet. Former Houston Rockets center Yao Ming is the chairman of the CBA.
The NBA offered the following statement:
We are extremely disappointed by the inappropriate remarks made by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, who has undoubtedly seriously hurt the feelings of our Chinese fans. Morey has now clarified that his comments do not represent the position of the Rockets or the NBA. Under the values of the NBA, people can examine topics they find deeply interesting and share their own opinions on matters. We have great respect for China's history and culture, and hope that sports and the NBA, can be used as positive energy for unity, and continue to be help build a bridge for international cultural exchanges and bring people together.
Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta tweeted Friday that Morey doesn't speak for the Rockets and that the franchise is not a political organization.
"We're here to play basketball and not to offend anybody," Fertitta told ESPN in a separate article.
Morey apologizes, too
Morey tweeted Sunday night that "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."
He referred to — this time without naming it — headline-grabbing protests in Hong Kong due to China's attempts to exercise authority over it. The clashes have become violent.
ESPN added that the Morey tweet occurred during an awkward moment for the NBA whose players have been outspoken about social issues in the United States.
Others speak out
Brooklyn Nets owner Joe Tsai — a native of Taiwan — posted an open letter on his Facebook page late Sunday night criticizing Morey's tweet, ESPN said.
"By now I hope you can begin to understand why the Daryl Morey tweet is so damaging to the relationship with our fans in China,'' Tsai wrote, according to the sports network. "I don't know Daryl personally. I am sure he's a fine NBA general manager, and I will take at face value his subsequent apology that he was not as well informed as he should have been. But the hurt that this incident has caused will take a long time to repair.''
ESPN added that the NBA has been building a relationship with China for at least three decades, as the league has a China office and officials in both countries say as many as 500 million Chinese fans watched at least one NBA game last season.
But now Chinese state television and Tencent — a major media partner with ESPN and the NBA in China, with a streaming deal that is worth $1.5 billion total over the next five years — said they would not be showing Rockets games, the sports network said.
'Human rights shouldn't be for sale'
Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas blasted the NBA for bowing to China over Morey's tweet:
"We're better than this; human rights shouldn't be for sale & the NBA shouldn't be assisting Chinese communist censorship," Cruz added in a follow-up tweet.
Democratic presidential candidate Julian Castro, a former U.S. Housing Secretary from Texas, tweeted similar views, ESPN said: "China is using its economic power to silence critics — even those in the U.S."
More from ESPN:
The Communist Party's official newspaper, People's Daily, said in a commentary that Morey's position was "hurtful to Chinese basketball fans and is also an affront to the Chinese people."
People's Daily noted that multinational corporations that tested the line on Hong Kong have "paid a heavy price." Cathay Pacific lost two executives after China warned the Hong Kong airline that its employees would be barred from flying over or to the mainland if they joined the protests.
After being criticized by Chinese social media users, fashion brands Givenchy, Versace and Coach apologized for selling T-shirts that showed Hong Kong, as well as the Chinese territory of Macau and self-ruled Taiwan, as separate countries.
Two G League exhibition games between affiliates of the Rockets and Dallas Mavericks, scheduled for later this month in China, have been canceled, according to The Athletic.