NBA refuses to apologize as China partners cut ties

Top News | Stella Wong and agencies 10 Oct 2019

NBA commissioner Adam Silver arrived in Shanghai yesterday hoping to meet with Chinese officials to "find mutual respect for each other's political systems and beliefs" amid an escalating rift.

At the same time, Chinese NBA fans were seeking streaming subscription refunds from Tencent after it suspended broadcasts of the leagues pre-season games in the mainland.

This comes as the NBA faces a mounting backlash over a Hong Kong-related tweet posted by Rockets Houston general manager Daryl Morey last week. It included an image with words: "Fight For Freedom. Stand With Hong Kong."

Morey later deleted the tweet and said he did not intend to offend Chinese fans and sponsors.

But Silver said the NBA is not apologizing for Morey "exercising his freedom of expression," adding that the association will not put itself in a position of "regulating what players, employees and team owners say or will not say on these issues."

More than 10 Chinese partners and sponsors including sportswear brand Li Ning, tech company Vivo and coffee shop Luckin Coffee said they would be cutting ties with the NBA.

Silver plans to meet Chinese stakeholders during his visit and attend a pre-season game in Shanghai between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Brooklyn Nets today. He earlier expressed a wish to "find an accommodation" with Yao Ming, chairman of the Chinese Basketball Association and a former Rockets player.

But a press conference scheduled for yesterday afternoon with both teams was postponed, while the Shanghai Sports Federation canceled an NBA fan evening last night due to the "inappropriate attitude" of Morey and Silver.

The two teams are also set to compete in Shenzhen on Saturday, though it was unclear last night what games would go on as scheduled.

Workers around Shanghai were tearing down large outdoor promotional advertisements for today's game, while angry Chinese fans posted photos of torn admission tickets on Weibo.

Neither of the pre-season games being held in China are now being broadcast by CCTV and Tencent Sport.

And the demand from fans for refunds from Tencent could cause the tech giant financial pain.

Citibank estimates Tencent's media advertising revenue to fall 1.3 percent year on year in the fourth quarter to 5.1 billion yuan (HK$5.6 billion) as the company's video advertising revenue may be negatively impacted by the dropping of games. During the NBA's 2018-2019 season, 490 million internet users in China watched one or more games on Tencent platforms

Meanwhile, San Antonio Spurs' coach Gregg Popovich saluted Silver for backing freedom of speech. "He's been a heck of a leader and very courageous," he said.

On another sports front, many Hearthstone players said yesterday that they would boycott the video game as the gaming company Blizzard had banned Hong Kong e-sports player Ng Wai-chung from a professional e-sports tournament on Tuesday.

Ng, who shouted "Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time" in a post-match interview, was suspended for 12 months from participating in Hearthstone e-sports.

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