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Why is China so angry at NBA and the Houston Rockets

2019-October-9       Source: Newsgd.com

On Saturday last week, Morey posted a tweet in support of violent protests in Hong Kong, which was liked by ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. However, not everyone was supportive of such comments.

On Saturday last week, Morey posted a tweet in support of violent protests in Hong Kong, which was liked by ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. However, not everyone was supportive of such comments.

Screenshot of Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey's post on Twitter.

The CBA said they will suspend cooperation with the club over Morey's tweet, which has since been taken down.

China Media Group (CMG) on Sunday night expressed opposition to the improper remarks of Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey on the current situation in China's Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) and decided to suspend the live-streaming of their games as well as cooperation and communication with the team.

CMG was joined by the Consulate General of the People's Republic of China in Houston in expressing dissatisfaction with the comments. "We are deeply shocked by the erroneous comments on Hong Kong made by Mr. Daryl Morey, general manager of the Houston Rockets. We have lodged representations and expressed strong dissatisfaction with the Houston Rockets, and urged the latter to correct the error and take immediate concrete measures to eliminate the adverse impact," said the Consulate General's spokesperson.

"At the moment, ending violence and chaos and restoring order has become the widest common consensus and the strongest appeal of all social sectors in Hong Kong. Anybody with conscience would support the efforts made by the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to safeguard Hong Kong's social stability."

The Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) also expressed similar views over the issue as multiple Chinese enterprises announced they are terminating cooperation with the team.

Shanghai Pudong Development Bank Credit Card Center said it "opposes and protests against" Morey's "erroneous"remarks and has suspended all marketing and publicity activities related to the Rockets.

Sports brand Li Ning denounced the post and said it had stopped all forms of cooperation with the Rockets. Meanwhile, Shanghai Jiayin Finance Technology notified the Rockets that all partnerships between the two sides have been halted.

China's biggest online shopping platform, Taobao, which is owned by Alibaba, removed all Rockets-related products from its e-commerce outlets on Monday afternoon.

Tencent Sports, which signed a five-year, 1.5-billion-U.S.-dollar deal with the NBA in July, announced that all live streaming and news reporting of the Rockets will be suspended. It also gave customers, who bought a subscription to watch the Rockets games online, a chance to opt for another team.

Double standards in defending "free speech"

Chinese observers condemned the NBA for applying double standards in defending "free speech" after a controversial retweet from an executive with the Houston Rockets basketball team.

Screenshot of the post of the People's Daily, China on Twitter.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement released on Tuesday that the league's defense of free speech won't change, even with Morey's social media post widely considered in China as interference in the country's internal affairs.

"It's inevitable that people around the world — including from America and China — will have different viewpoints over different issues," Silver said in the statement issued before a preseason game in Tokyo. "The NBA will not put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees and team owners say or will not say on these issues."

Managing arguably the most-followed NBA franchise in China in large part thanks to its being the former team of legendary Chinese basketball player Yao Ming, Morey infuriated Chinese fans by retweeting an image that read "Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong". That is a slogan often shouted by rioters during months of violent protests in Hong Kong.

Observers suggested the NBA has failed to realize the seriousness of the matter in Hong Kong, where protests have grown increasingly violent and become a threat to China's territorial sovereignty.

"Silver and the league appear naive in this case and appear to be still not able to understand that they are applying double standards in handling the issue," said Su Qun, chief editor of twice-weekly newspaper Basketball Pioneers and a renowned sports commentator, on his Weibo account on Tuesday.

"They haven't realized so far that the boundaries for free expression regarding sensitive issues are different in China and the US. There are different taboos in other countries and cultures rather than just ethnicity, gender and religion in the States, which are nonnegotiable."

Hong Jianping, a sports communication researcher with Beijing Sport University commented: "Free speech should be respected and honored on certain conditions. There's nothing wrong with individuals expressing their opinions on condition that they have gained a full understanding of the matter. Unfortunately, it's not the situation in this case, as they chose to speak not knowing what's really going on in Hong Kong."

Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang also addressed the issue on Tuesday, saying the country's position over the incident is "very clear".

"It won't work if you exchange and cooperate with China but don't understand China's public opinion," he said in an afternoon news briefing.

Just two days ahead of a preseason game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Brooklyn Nets in Shanghai, both State-owned television network China Central Television and internet giant Tencent announced on Tuesday that they had canceled broadcasting of two exhibition games between the teams, originally scheduled for Thursday in Shanghai and two days later in Shenzhen, Guangdong province. CCTV also said it will review all cooperation with the NBA.

On Tuesday, Guangdong-based smartphone manufacturer Vivo joined a long list of Chinese sponsors by terminating business cooperation with the league.

China's territory 'non-negotiable'

Joseph Tsai, as the owner of the NBA's Brooklyn Nets and co-founder of e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, has a unique vantage point on the roiling controversy stemming from the Houston Rockets' general manager's tweet on the Hong Kong protests.

"Supporting a separatist movement in a Chinese territory is one of those third-rail issues, not only for the Chinese government, but also for citizens of China," Tsai wrote in an open letter to NBA fans posted on his Facebook page.

The tweet by Rockets GM Daryl Morey on Friday, which he subsequently deleted, said: "Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong".

"The one thing that is terribly misunderstood, and often ignored, by the Western press and those critical of China, is that 1.4 billion Chinese citizens stand united when it comes to the territorial integrity of China and the country's sovereignty over her homeland," Tsai added. "This issue is non-negotiable."

Tsai went on to note the Opium Wars and Japan's invasion of China in 1937 as examples for why the Chinese psyche has "heavy baggage" when it comes to threats to sovereignty.

Tsai was a key dealmaker in Alibaba's rise and now serves as its executive vice-chairman. He completed the purchase of a 49 percent stake in the Brooklyn Nets in 2018 and bought the remaining shares of the company last month. The team is expected to be an NBA championship contender this season.

Those who challenge China's core interests and hurt Chinese people's feelings cannot make any profit from the Chinese market


On the official micro blog of the Houston Rockets' Chinese website, Chinese basketball fans are calling for the team to dismiss Morey. Houston Rockets' boss Tilman Fertitta said that Morey "does not speak for" the team, but that rendered little help.


In all the NBA, the Houston Rockets are regarded as team with the highest number of Chinese fans. Before the Morey's tweet was published, the Rockets had 1.71 million followers on its micro blog, and its song Burn it Down, was watched almost 1 million times, while every time the team faced competition, there were Chinese fans rooting for them.


This July, when Morey posted snapshots of a Chinese fan insulting him, the majority of domestic media outlets and micro bloggers supported him, blaming the fan for being impolite. Compared with other NBA teams, the Houston Rockets and its staff enjoyed an almost "privileged" position on Chinese social networks.


Neither Morey nor other team staff might have realized why. A major reason lies in Yao Ming, the current CBA chairman, as well as a retired player who was a member of the Houston Rockets from 2002 to 2011. As the first Chinese listed in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, Yao earned fame for the Chinese nation, and expanded the influence of the Chinese sports industry.


A majority of Yao's fans liked the Houston Rockets, too, because that's where he played. In some sense, the very coin they earned from Chinese fans has something to do with Chinese fans' national pride.


Yet it seems Morey totally neglected Chinese fans' feelings when commenting about Hong Kong. He should know that Hong Kong is part of China and Hong Kong affairs are the domestic affairs of China, and he should have realized Chinese people's patriotism as soon as he faced criticism on Twitter. Yet, instead of sincerely apologizing, he simply deleted the trouble-making tweet, which shows he hardly regrets his wrongdoing.


His team, which ignored the feelings of Chinese fans, is also paying a heavy price for that mistake.


Let's hope the incident with Morey and the Houston Rockets will teach other companies a lesson: The big Chinese market is open to the world, but those who challenge China's core interests and hurt Chinese people's feelings cannot make any profit from it.


Source: China Daily & CGTN

Editor: Keane Wong

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