The National Basketball Association (NBA) said Friday it had cancelled all remaining press events for its current China tour, citing the “complicated and unprecedented” controversy over Hong Kong protests and free speech.
Two pre-season exhibition games in China between the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets have been overshadowed by a Chinese backlash against a Houston Rockets executive’s expression of support last Friday for Hong Kong pro-democracy protests.
“We have decided not to hold media availability for our teams for the remainder of our trip in China,” the NBA said in a statement.
“They have been placed into a complicated and unprecedented situation while abroad and we believe it would be unfair to ask them to address these matters in real time.”
Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey sparked the dispute with a tweet expressing solidarity with protesters in Hong Kong who have staged months of increasingly violent demonstrations against China’s control of the semi-autonomous region.
The NBA’s Chinese sponsors dropped lucrative partnership deals in protest, and the affair quickly ballooned into yet another irritant in the US-China relationship when leading American politicians urged the NBA to ditch all activities in China in retaliation.
An NBA representative told AFP that the second game between the Lakers and Nets, set for Saturday night in the southern city of Shenzhen, was still expected to proceed as planned.
The teams flew to Shenzhen earlier Friday after playing their first game in Shanghai the night before.
The Shanghai game proceeded smoothly despite the raging controversy, as a near-capacity crowd of 18,000 Chinese fans cheered wildly for Lakers superstar LeBron James and his cohorts.