“Inside the NBA” did not shy away from discussing the ongoing crisis between the NBA and China during TNT’s pregame coverage of the first night of the NBA season on Tuesday. Former NBA star Shaquille O’Neal defended Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s right to tweet his support of Hong Kong, which angered the Chinese government and has caused a rift between the NBA and China.
“One of our best values here in America is free speech. We’re allowed to say what we want to say and we are allowed to speak out on injustices and that’s just how it goes,” O’Neal said on Tuesday. “If people don’t understand that, that’s something they have to deal with.”
Since Morey tweeted his support of the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong in early October, which enraged the Chinese government, the ensuing fallout has dominated national news headlines. On Thursday, TNT will air the Rockets’ first game of the season against the Milwaukee Bucks and will have NBA commissioner Adam Silver on its pregame show.
China’s state-run CCTV did not air Tuesday night’s games, though they were available for streaming in the country on Tencent, according to Bloomberg.
“I just thought it was unfortunate for both parties, and then you got people speaking when they don’t know what they’re talking about. But Daryl Morey was right,” O’Neal continued. “Whenever you see something wrong going on anywhere in the world, you should have the right to say ‘That’s not right,’ and that’s what he did.”
Morey’s support of Hong Kong, where he wrote in a since-deleted tweet: “Fight for Freedom. Stand With Hong Kong” — was immediately criticized by the Chinese government. The Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) suspended all cooperation with the Rockets, which is among the most popular teams 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 contract to continue as the NBA’s streaming partner in China, no longer offers live-streams of Rockets games and has suspended all news coverage of the team.
The Rockets are more closely tied to China. Yao Ming, who played his entire career with the Rockets, is currently the head of the CBA.
Last week, at the Time 100 Health Summit in New York, Silver said that China had asked the NBA to fire Morey over the tweet. He said there was “no chance that’s happening,” adding further that they wouldn’t even discipline him for the tweet. According to the South China Morning Post, in a commentary, China’s state-run TV station CCTV said Silver could face “retribution” for defaming China and supporting Morey.
The protests in Hong Kong, which began in March before growing to its current scale in June, came as a result of a proposed extradition law. This bill would allow criminal suspects in Hong Kong to be sent to China to face trial. Activists argue the bill would threaten legal rights that Hong Kong residents have under the current “one country, two systems” framework.