Houston Rockets’ general manager Daryl Morey was treated to raised eyebrows from China and NBA executives after tweeting in support of Hong Kong amidst the widespread protests occurring in the special administrative region. The protests stemmed from a proposal allowing the extradition of suspects in Hong Kong to mainland China, which has a justice system known for its high conviction rate, among other atrocious violations of human rights. Hong Kong and China maintain a tenuous relationship under the “one country, two systems” policy established in 1997, which allowed Hong Kong to keep the capitalist system they had at the time while still officially becoming part of China.
Morey’s tweet — which has since been deleted — read “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong.” Houston’s owner Tilman Fertitta wasted no time in making very clear that Morey did not speak for the franchise on the matter and that the Rockets were in no way a political organization. Morey issued a pathetic apology, no doubt spurred on by pressure from the organization and the NBA. The NBA itself issued a statement that was not much better, appealing to Chinese fans in what seemed as an effort to maintain their business ventures in the country. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, to his credit, personally spoke and confirmed the league would not be censoring its athletes or those employed by franchises.
Silver’s comments, while supportive of free speech, simply aren’t enough. The league should not be bending over backward to cater to China while the country threatens the civil liberties of its own citizens. No doubt New York Nets owner Joseph Tsai, born in Taipei, has had a serious voice in this matter among the NBA elite. Tsai also issued a statement, claiming that “separatist movements” are a difficult subject for China because of its history of foreign occupation. It is true that China, and really the entire region in general, has suffered for many years under European colonization. However, it is ridiculous to use that terrible history as a reason for China to be against Hong Kong’s refusal to comply with new extradition laws, which would only be the beginning of China attempting to envelop Hong Kong and take full control. If anything, the more logical argument is to support Hong Kong’s position as a place sieged by an authoritarian regime looking to establish its complete reign.
If China wishes to ban the NBA — like it recently banned popular Comedy Central television show South Park — so be it. The government will act how they see fit in regards to their own country and citizens. But for organizations such as the NBA, and even ESPN with their recent graphic indicating China’s control of the South China Sea — a very controversial topic in the region and around the world — to seemingly follow China’s orders in favor of making more money is unacceptable. The NBA has prided itself on being a space where athletes can express their opinions and values openly. Lebron James (who has had horrible takes on this matter) and Steph Curry have voiced their distaste for President Donald Trump, and many others have made racial justice an important topic they support. Maybe now the president can commiserate with the NBA — both seem eager to be at China’s every beck and call. With an incompetent political leader and equally pathetic leadership in important financial positions, the impetus is on the fans to make a difference. What else is new?