On Friday, the NBA canceled all of its press conferences for the remainder of its China visit as it seeks to appease both Chinese government censors and the roar of critics back home.
“We have decided not to hold media availability for our teams for the remainder of our trip in China,” the league said in a statement. “They have been placed into a complicated and unprecedented situation while abroad and we believe it would be unfair to ask them to address these matters in real time.”
The drastic move follows a press conference in Tokyo Thursday, in which a Houston Rockets representative cut off a CNN reporter who asked James Harden and Russell Westbrook if they “feel differently” about speaking out on political issues in light of the tension between the NBA and China.
The NBA later apologized to reporter Christina Macfarlane, and acknowledged the Rockets staffer had “inappropriately interjected to prevent [Macfarlane] from receiving an answer to her question.”
Houston Rockets’ general manager Daryl Morey sparked the initial firestorm last weekend, tweeting a message of support for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.
Morey quickly deleted the tweet, bowing to pressure from the Chinese government and the NBA, which has been eager to expand into ― and profit from ― the Chinese market. Per Reuters, the NBA’s business in China is estimated to be worth more than $4 billion.
“I did not intend my tweet to cause any offense to Rockets fans and friends of mine in China,” Morey tweeted on Monday. “I was merely voicing one thought, based on one interpretation, of one complicated event.”
League commissioner Adam Silver then spoke out in favor of Morey exercising “his freedom of expression,” prompting China to stop broadcasting Rockets games and cancel sponsorship agreements it had with the NBA.
Brooklyn Nets owner Joe Tsai, who co-founded the Chinese e-commerce conglomerate Alibaba, also criticized the tweet.
The Brooklyn Nets and the Los Angeles Lakers are scheduled to play an exhibition game in Shenzhen on Saturday, the last game of the NBA’s 2019 Asia tour.