Many NBA players and coaches in recent years have shared their personal thoughts on political and sometimes controversial topics, and the league seemed fine with it. But a tweet by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey about the protests in Hong Kong led the league to immediately apologize. It’s also done something that’s been rare lately: united several Republican and Democratic senators.
The problem started when Morey said he stood with Hong Kong on the matter of the months-long protests in the semiautonomous Chinese territory. It caused problems for the NBA because the U.S. basketball league is hugely popular in China, and the tweet caused the Chinese Basketball Association to suspend its relationship with the Houston team.
The NBA, seemingly worried about alienating its millions of Chinese fans – and the revenue generated by the sport’s popularity there – apologized. It said the tweet was “regrettable,” and Morey deleted the post and apologized, saying, “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.”
But several U.S. politicians from both sides of the aisle are saying the NBA should not be apologizing to China.
Ben Sasse, a Republican senator from Nebraska, released a statement calling the NBA’s “apology to the Chinese Communist Party” shameful, adding, “Basketball fans and the American people more broadly should have absolutely no doubt about what is happening here: The NBA wants money, and the Communist Party of China is asking them to deny the most basic of human rights. In response, the NBA issued a statement saying money is the most important thing.”
Chuck Schumer of New York, the top Senate Democrat, said, “No one should implement a gag rule on Americans speaking out for freedom. I stand with the people of Hong Kong in their pursuit of democratic rights.”
No one should implement a gag rule on Americans speaking out for freedom.
I stand with the people of Hong Kong in their pursuit of democratic rights.
I stand with Americans who want to voice their support for the people of Hong Kong.
– Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) October 7, 2019
Similarly, Tim Scott, a Republican senator from South Carolina, said, “Since when did we need the Communist Party of China’s approval to have an opinion?”
Since when did we need the Communist Party of China’s approval to have an opinion? It’s a sad day when Americans can’t come out in support of freedom & democracy without fear of retaliation. Hey @NBA: In America, we put free speech ahead of contracts. https://t.co/g4YpLmBfiY
– Tim Scott (@SenatorTimScott) October 7, 2019
And Julián Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio and current Democratic presidential hopeful, said, “China is using its economic power to silence critics – even those in the U.S.”
China is using its economic power to silence critics-even those in the U.S.
The United States must lead with our values and speak out for pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong, and not allow American citizens to be bullied by an authoritarian government. https://t.co/87U4jgsAAp
– Julián Castro (@JulianCastro) October 7, 2019
Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, said, “We’re better than this; human rights shouldn’t be for sale & the NBA shouldn’t be assisting Chinese communist censorship.”
We’re better than this; human rights shouldn’t be for sale & the NBA shouldn’t be assisting Chinese communist censorship.
– Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) October 7, 2019
Sen. Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas, said, “The NBA is wrong: we ought to support brave Hong Kongers struggling for freedom, not their Chinese communist oppressors.”
.@dmorey is right & @NBA is wrong: we ought to support brave Hong Kongers struggling for freedom, not their Chinese communist oppressors. @NBA, don’t be the capitalists who will sell the rope used to hang you.
– Tom Cotton (@TomCottonAR) October 7, 2019
And Marco Rubio, a Republican senator from Florida, said, “I thought the @NBA was proud to be the ‘wokest professional sports league’? I guess that only applies to speaking out on American politics & social issues.”
I thought the @NBA was proud to be the “wokest professional sports league”?
I guess that only applies to speaking out on American politics & social issues. https://t.co/iS7uhqIAfA
– Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) October 7, 2019
Stay tuned to see how the NBA handles this situation in the coming days.