China on Wednesday slammed NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s defence of free speech, cancelling a basketball fan event and lashing him in the state-run press, as Apple was warned it could be the next Western firm punished for supporting democracy protesters in Hong Kong.
The NBA had been looking to cement its already huge popularity in the lucrative China market this week with a pair of annual pre-season exhibition games, but those plans were thrown into disarray by a tweet from Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey backing the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.
Silver and the NBA initially responded to Friday’s tweet with statements that American politicians branded as caving into China.
But Silver, in Japan for another pre-season exhibition event involving the Rockets, then provoked China’s ire on Tuesday when he said the NBA supported freedom of expression.
“Silver’s about-face, which will definitely give a shot to the arms of the rioters in Hong Kong, shows his organization is willing to be another handy tool for US interference in (Hong Kong),” the state-run China Daily newspaper said in an editorial.
An editorial in the nationalistic Global Times said there was now “little room for reconciliation” as the issue had escalated into a clash of values between China and the US.
The NBA has built a lucrative Chinese fanbase, thanks in part to the popularity of former Rockets centre Yao Ming.
But after Morey’s tweet, state broadcaster CCTV and Chinese internet company Tencent both suspended broadcasts of Rockets games and two preseason NBA games in China.
The Chinese Basketball Association, which Yao now heads, also cut ties with the Rockets.