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Sport NBA Says It Won't Regulate What Employees Say, as China Fallout Intensifies

15:30  08 october  2019
15:30  08 october  2019 Source:   online.wsj.com

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Beijing and the National Basketball Association hardened their standoff on Tuesday, as China canceled broadcasts of preseason games and the league’s commissioner said he wouldn’ t apologize for a weekend tweet by a team executive that triggered a firestorm of criticism.

National Basketball Association Commissioner Adam Silver said on Tuesday it is not up to the NBA to regulate what players, employees and team owners say amid anger from China over a tweet from Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey expressing support for Hong Kong's protesters.

National Basketball Association Commissioner Adam Silver addressed criticism that his response to a controversy over a tweet by a team executive deferred too much to Beijing’s views, even as a Chinese state broadcaster said it wouldn’t air two games scheduled for this week.

a basketball player during a game© thomas peter/Reuters

Mr. Silver was addressing the controversy over a momentary show of support for Hong Kong antigovernment protesters by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey in a tweet Friday. Mr. Silver said the league’s initial statement about China left people angered and confused, in a nod to criticism that it deferred too much to Beijing’s views.

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NBA commissioner Adam Silver addressed criticism that his response to a controversy over a tweet by a team executive deferred too much to Beijing’s views, even as a Chinese State broadcaster said it wouldn’ t air two games scheduled for this week. © thomas peter/ReutersMr. Silver was addressing the

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An initial statement by the NBA over the weekend said the league recognized that Mr. Morey’s now-deleted tweet “deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China, which is regrettable.” An extra line in a Chinese version of the statement expressed “extreme disappointment” in Mr. Morey’s “inappropriate comments.”

Earlier Tuesday, China Central Television said that its sports channel decided to suspend broadcast arrangements for the two games and “immediately investigate all cooperation and exchanges involving the NBA.”

In making its announcement, CCTV cited Mr. Silver’s statement a day earlier defending Mr. Morey’s right to free expression. The move follows others that could damage the NBA’s business in China, including a halt to sales of some Rockets merchandise in the country.

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Although the NBA says it won ' t censor team executives or players from speaking out , the swift and angry response from China has everyone on edge. Progressive leader. "However, the NBA will not put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees , and team owners say or will not say

In a regular news briefing on Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said, “These foreign teams should know the opinions of China’s citizens, or it will not work.” He said the NBA knew what it needed to say and do next.

In a statement issued in Japan on Tuesday shortly before a preseason game between the Rockets and the Toronto Raptors, Mr. Silver said the NBA’s statement had left people “angered, confused or unclear on who we are.”

He rejected criticism that the NBA deferred to China out of concern for its business interests there.

“This is about far more than growing our business,” Mr. Silver said. “Values of equality, respect and freedom of expression have long defined the NBA—and will continue to do so.”

Mr. Silver said the NBA couldn’t adjudicate political differences between the U.S. and China and that the NBA “will not put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees and team owners say” about those issues.

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He said that the league would not pursue profits over principles. "The NBA will not put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees and Tencent Sports (TCEHY), which is the NBA 's exclusive digital partner in China , said it would suspend live streaming for Houston Rockets games

READ: China won ' t show NBA preseason games as backlash over Hong Kong tweet grows. "The NBA will not put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees and team owners say or CCTV Sports, a division of China 's state broadcaster, added extra pressure when it said it would not

Mr. Morey’s tweet was criticized by many in China as challenging Beijing’s sovereignty over Hong Kong, where protesters for four months have sometimes violently called for less control by the central government. Mr. Morey quickly deleted his tweet.

Many in China have pointed out that the NBA and Messrs. Silver and Morey stopped short of apologizing.

The backlash immediately put millions of dollars of revenue on the line for the NBA in China, by far its biggest overseas market. The Chinese Basketball Association has suspended ties with the Rockets.

Mr. Silver is due to arrive later this week in China. The Rockets will play a second game against the Raptors just outside Tokyo on Thursday.

As recently as Monday afternoon, CCTV’s sports channel had posted plans to broadcast live the preseason games planned in China this week by the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets and the Los Angeles Lakers, featuring global celebrities like LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. A game is planned for Thursday night in Shanghai followed by a rematch Saturday in Shenzhen.

CCTV has broadcast NBA games for three decades. NBA games are also streamed online on platforms run by Tencent Holdings Ltd. The company has since the tweet said it would suspend broadcasts of Rockets games months after signing a five-year extension with the NBA worth $1.5 billion.

Write to Alastair Gale at alastair.gale@wsj.com and James T. Areddy at james.areddy@wsj.com

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