Daryl Morey messed with the NBA’s Chinese money
There’s an old wise saying: “Idle hands and idle minds are the devil’s workshop.” Houston Rockets’ GM Daryl Morey appears to be the embodiment of that. On October 4, Morey tweeted seven words. Seven words that turned the NBA on its axis. Seven words that rekindled an already smoldering geopolitical crisis. With those simple seven words, Daryl Morey messed with the NBA’s Chinese money stream.
Think before you tweet
— Frank Lee (@FrankLee917) October 7, 2019
By copying a meme he saw online, Morey did what many folks often do. That is type words and not think of consequences. There is no question of Daryl Morey’s intellect. Morey quickly realized the error of his ways and subsequently deleted the tweet. But the damage was already done, and it was only a matter of time before the fallout materialized. Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta tweeted an immediate reproach. “Listen,” accentuated Fertitta, “@dmorey does NOT speak for the @HoustonRockets . . . we are NOT a political organization.” Too little too late.
For his part, Morey expressed remorse and issued an apology for his initial tweet. “I have always appreciated the significant support our Chinese fans and sponsors have provided, and I would hope that those who are upset will know that offending or misunderstanding them was not my intention. I have had a lot of opportunity since that tweet to hear and consider other perspectives.” Morey further added, “I did not intend my tweet to cause any offense to Rockets fans and friends of mine in China.”
This did not impress China
The Chinese Consulate in Houston issued a strong statement. “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.” The statement read in part.
Former Houston Rockets All-Star and basketball Hall of Fame inductee Yao Ming is head of The Chinese basketball Association (CBA). That link did not spare or quell the CBA’s gurgling wrath. The CBA released a statement on Chinese social media site Weibo saying in part, “The Chinese basketball association has expressed strong opposition to the remarks, and will suspend communication and cooperation with the Houston Rockets club.”
Enter The NBA
For its part, the NBA under the stewardship of commissioner Adam Silver fashions itself as the socially progressive league. The talk of mutual respect between players and owners is evident. The fact that team owners are currently calling themselves “governors” to remove any suggestion or inkling of slavery or indentureship.
The NBA released a statement in both English and Mandarin. This is the English version; “We recognize that the views expressed by Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey have offended so many of our friends and fans in China, which is regrettable. While Daryl has made it clear that 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. We have great respect for the history and culture of China and hope that sports and the NBA can be used as a unifying force to bridge cultural divides and bring people together.” On Weibo, the Mandarin version used much stronger criticism of Morey.
Commissioner Silver attempted to save face
A significant part of East Asian Culture is “saving face”. Buzz words like honor and respect are bandied about frequently. However, this is not taken lightly and as a result, NBA commissioner Adam Silver had to respond quickly. Commissioner Silver fielded questions in Japan. Silver also released an official statement on Tuesday. In an obvious and necessary act of damage control, Commissioner Silver toed the fine line.
Adam Silver has released statement on league’s relationship status with China, reading in part: “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. We simply could not operate that way.” pic.twitter.com/A43BOAdG57
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) October 8, 2019
An embarrassment in front of the Money
Shortly after the fateful Daryl Morey tweet and response from the Chinese Consulate, NBA business partners started suspending or terminating relationships with the Rockets and the NBA. Tech giant Tencent (who is a partner with ESPN) alongside Luckin Coffee and VIVO were first to announce their suspension of relations with the Rockets.
“Hopefully we can get through it” – Portland Trailblazers Star C.J. McCollum
NBA Players are also affected
Sportswear manufacturers ANTA and Li-Ning were among nine other partners to pull out of their agreement with the NBA. ANTA is the shoe sponsor for NBA stars Klay Thompson, Gordon Hayward and Rajon Rondo. NBA legend Dwyane Wade, star CJ McCollum and others wear Li-Ning. “I’m in a great situation with my partnership with Li-Ning. I’m grateful for the opportunity to go to China each summer and bond with the fans and the support they’ve shown me,” McCollum said after Monday’s preseason game. “The way I’ve been able to strategically build my brand there, I’m thankful for that. “I think that based on what I’ve seen and what I’ve heard, we’re heading in the right direction. It’s unfortunate that things have gotten to this point, but hopefully we can get through it.”
State run Chinese television station CCTV will no longer air NBA preseason games. NBA Cares events featuring the Brooklyn Nets and LA Lakers were cancelled. “We believe any remarks that challenge national sovereignty and social stability do not belong to the category of free speech,” CCTV Sports said in a statement. Furthermore the statement continued, “We express our strong dissatisfaction and opposition to Silver’s stated support of Morey’s right to free speech. We believe any remarks that challenge national sovereignty and social stability do not belong to the category of free speech.” The Media house further threatened to examine all other relationships with the NBA moving forward.
Brooklyn Nets owner added his view
Brooklyn Nets owner Joseph Tsai also made his thoughts on the matter known. In an attempt to diffuse the situation Tsai took to social media and stated his case, neither in defence of or against Daryl Morey. The jury is still out on whether this was effective or not. Americans did not appreciate the perceived rhetoric, and the Chinese thought it was not enough. What must be addressed here is not the simple fact that the Chinese Government is upset, but also the average Chinese citizen.
The proverbial man on the street showed his displeasure. More importantly, businesses stopped selling Rockets apparel. Some fans even vowed to never watch NBA basketball again. This cuts deeper than many in the United States were willing to acknowledge.
Politicians Weigh in
As in nature, where ever the whale or giant shark is, the Remora stays. So too are politicians with respect to controversy. 2020 Democratic Presidential Candidates Julian Castro and Beto O’Rourke expressed their displeasure at the NBA’s handling of this gigantic controversy. Republican Senator Ted Cruz also expressed his displeasure in a rare show of political bipartisanship.
Members of both houses co-signed a letter addressed to the NBA Commissioner. In this letter they asked the NBA to “put our fundamental democratic rights ahead of profit”. Highhanded much? Further the letter outlined four steps they wanted the NBA to take. Among those “steps” the letter requested that the NBA, “Suspend activities in China until government-controlled broadcasters and government-controlled commercial sponsors end their boycott of NBA activities and the selective treatment of the Houston Rockets, and emphasize that the association will stand unified in the face of future efforts by Chinese government-controlled entities to single out individual teams, players, or associates for boycotts or selective treatment.”
The President offered his two cents
Of course, this issue would be incomplete if the Commander In Chief did not weigh in. Enter President Donald Trump. Mr. Trump had to take pot shots at those who criticized him since the beginning of his presidential reign. The President accused the NBA of “pandering to China.” “I watch the way that (Steve) Kerr, (Gregg) Popovich, and some of the others were pandering to China and yet to our own country, they don’t – it’s like they don’t respect it,” Mr. Trump said. There is no love lost between Kerr and the president so the President also took to Twitter.
So funny to watch Steve Kerr grovel and pander when asked a simple question about China. He chocked, and looks weak and pathetic. Don’t want him at the White House!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 12, 2019
Rainbow on the Horizon
While China has treated the NBA with disdain, they allowed the NBA pre-season games between the Nets and Lakers to proceed. There were stipulations however. No pre and post game press conferences. Most noteworthy, Commissioner Silver was not allowed to address the media since his arrival into mainland China. Both games went off without incident and the Nets were victorious both times.
This could well prove to be the silver lining in an otherwise dark cloud. There is simply too much at stake for both parties to walk away without resolution. Daryl Morey messed with the Chinese money and there are harsh consequences.