Multiple NBA media events featuring the Los Angeles Lakers and the Brooklyn Nets were abruptly shelved Wednesday in China, calling into question whether two scheduled exhibition games between the teams will even take place later this week.
The cancelations come as the league continues to deal with the fallout of Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeting his support for Hong Kong protestors last week, a move that enraged China’s Communist government.
First, a planned media session including both teams was scrapped. “Given the fluidity of the situation, today’s media availability has been postponed,” a NBA spokesperson said in a statement on Wednesday.
Later, an NBA Cares event, benefiting the Special Olympics, was called off, followed by a “fan appreciation” night, where the league was set to announce it would be renovating outdoor courts in Shanghai, also being dropped.
The wave of last-minute cancelations has suddenly put Thursday’s Lakers-Nets matchup in jeopardy. The two teams are also scheduled to play on Saturday in Shenzhen. Adding to the growing suspicion the games could be canceled, billboards showcasing Thursday’s game, including Lakers stars LeBron James and Anthony Davis, have been pulled down by construction workers.
ESPN host Rachel Nichols, who is in China for the games, reported that the ordeal has been “frustrating” for the players, with the Lakers having their practice unexpectedly moved when they were told an arena was now unavailable to them. The raucous crowds that typically greet NBA players has been subdued, Nichols reported, with Chinese fans covering their faces from TV cameras, fearing they’ll be spotted cheering for their favorite players as they enter and leave their hotels.
The NBA-China rift first opened on Friday, when Morey tweeted his support of Hong Kong, writing in a since-deleted tweet: “Fight for Freedom. Stand With Hong Kong.” It was immediately criticized by the Chinese government. The Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) suspended all cooperation with the Rockets, which is among the most popular in China. The Chinese Media Group, the country’s state-controlled media arm, said it was “deeply shocked by the erroneous comments” made by Morey. Tencent Sports, which signed a five-year, $1.5 billion to continue as the NBA’s streaming partner in China, said it would no longer offer live-streams of Rockets games and suspended all news coverage of the team.
CCTV, the state-run broadcasting network, has followed suit, canceling its plans to air the Lakers-Nets preseason game on Thursday.