The NBA and Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey apologized to China for a now-deleted tweet by Morey that expressed support for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong — a tweet that has already cost the team some significant business partnerships in China, CNBC reported.
On Friday, Morey tweeted an image that stated, "Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong," drawing criticism from the Chinese Consulate-General in Houston, the Chinese Basketball Association, and Houston Rockets team owner Tilman Fertitta.
"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, with which the Rockets have maintained a close partnership, severed ties with the NBA franchise in response to Morey's tweet. Former Houston Rockets center Yao Ming is the chairman of the CBA.
"The Chinese Basketball Association has expressed strong opposition to the remarks, and will suspend communication and cooperation with the Houston Rockets club," a CBA statement read.
Reuters reported that sportswear brand Li-Ning and Shanghai Pudong Development Bank have also cut ties with the Rockets due to Morey's Hong Kong tweet.
The NBA is the most popular professional sports league in China, and the league issued an apologetic statement in China on Sunday to minimize the damage:
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 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.
Morey tweeted Sunday night that he had since taken time to "hear and consider other perspectives" on the issue.
"I did not intend my tweet to cause any offense to Rockets fans and friends of mine in China," Morey wrote. "I was merely voicing one thought, based on one interpretation, of one complicated event."
In the use of the phrase, "complicated event," Morey is referring to the increasingly violent protests in Hong Kong over the threat of growing influence by China's communist government over the city. Hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong residents have participated in the protests over the past several months, and clashes between demonstrators and authorities have become more aggressive and dangerous.