Rockets back down amid tweet backlash

Top News | Stella Wong and agencies 8 Oct 2019

Houston Rockets star James Harden and the basketball team's general manager have apologized to Beijing over a tweet in support of Hong Kong protesters.

Harden, standing alongside fellow Rockets guard Russell Westbrook yesterday in Tokyo, said: "We apologize. We love China.

"We love playing there. Both of us, we go there once or twice a year. They show us most support so we appreciate them."

General manager Daryl Morey also apologized in a tweet yesterday, saying he did not intend to offend fans of the NBA team in China in a previous tweet, which he had by then deleted.

That first tweet included words about protesters in Hong Kong being treated harshly and featured an image with the words: "Fight For Freedom. Stand With Hong Kong."

Morey added: "I was merely voicing one thought, based on one interpretation on a complicated event. I have had a lot of opportunity since that tweet to hear and consider other perspectives.

"I have always appreciated the significant support our Chinese fans and sponsors have provided and I hope those upset will know that offending or misunderstanding them was not my intention."

He said his tweets did not represent the Rockets or the NBA.

But the NBA was also coming under fire in the United States for its apology.

Texas Republican senator Ted Cruz declared: "As a lifelong Houston Rockets fan I was proud to see Morey call out the Chinese Communist Party's repressive treatment of protesters in Hong Kong.

"Now, in pursuit of [money], the NBA is shamefully retreating."

Josh Hawley, a Republican senator from Missouri, responded with: "The Chinese government has a million people locked in concentration camps and is trying to brutally repress Hong Kong demonstrators. And the NBA wants to 'bridge cultural divides? Cultural divides?' "

From the Democratic camp presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke described as "an embarrassment" the backing off by Americans. "The only thing the NBA should be apologizing for is their blatant prioritization of profits over human rights," he said.

Still, NBA chief communications officer Mike Bass was reiterating that Morey's views were "regrettable."

Bass added: "While Daryl has made it clear his tweet does not represent the Rockets or the NBA, the values of the league support individuals educating themselves and sharing their views on matters important to them."

Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta said Morey "does not speak for the team," and "we are not a political organization."

But the Chinese side was slum-dunking in turn after Beijing's consulate in Houston said it was "deeply shocked" by Morey's "erroneous comments."

State broadcaster CCTV and Tencent said they will stop broadcasts featuring the Rockets while sponsors including sportswear brand Li Ning announced a severing of ties with the NBA team.

The Chinese Basketball Association, headed by former Rockets player Yao Ming, said it will suspend cooperation and exchanges with the Rockets.

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