The NBA reverses course, now stands with Houston Rockets Daryl Morey

Houston Rockets Daryl Morey (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Houston Rockets Daryl Morey (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /

The Daryl Morey controversy added another layer today. Adam Silver and the NBA released a statement seemingly backtracking on their earlier comments now supporting Morey’s freedom to voice his opinion.

It all started as one tweet by Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey and by now everyone knows has turned into an international controversy. There have been apologies from Darryl Morey, James Harden and recently the NBA weighed in with their statement. In his first statement on the matter, Adam Silver seemed to distance the NBA from Morey, via Larry Brown Sports.

“We recognize that the views expressed by Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey have deeply offended 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.”

It didn’t go over well with a lot of people in the States and it was only a matter of time before the NBA released another statement.

There was backlash from several politicians, who criticized the NBA for not supporting Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey. Senator Marco Rubio questioned if the NBA is really as “woke” as their reputation seems to suggest.

I thought the @NBA was proud to be the “wokest professional sports league”?

I guess that only applies to speaking out on American politics & social issues.

— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) October 7, 2019

Presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke called the NBA’s initial response to China’s backlash an embarrassment.

The only thing the NBA should be apologizing for is their blatant prioritization of profits over human rights. What an embarrassment.

— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) October 7, 2019

Along with those statements, there was also a strong rebuke from many fans on both sides of the political spectrum who usually don’t agree on much but seemed, for the most part, unified in their disappointment in the NBA. A league that has been at the forefront of many social issues, the NBA has a reputation for being quite progressive.

In order to silence critics and shut down claims of hypocrisy, Silver and the NBA released a second statement on Tuesday morning.

“I recognize our initial statement left people angered, confused or unclear on who we are or what the NBA stands for. Let me be more clear.

“Over the last three decades, the NBA has developed a great affinity for the people of China. We have seen how basketball can be an important form of people-to-people exchange that deepens ties between the United States and China.

“At the same time, we recognize that our two countries have different political systems and beliefs. And like many global brands, we bring our business to places with different political systems around the world.

“But for those who question our motivation, this is about far more than growing our business.

“Values of equality, respect and freedom of expression have long defined the NBA – and will continue to do so. As an American-based basketball league operating globally, among our greatest contributions are these values of the game.

“In fact, one of the enduring strengths of the NBA is our diversity – of views, backgrounds, ethnicities, genders and religions. Twenty-five percent of NBA players were born outside of the United States and our colleagues work in league offices around the world, including in Beijing, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Taipei.

“With that diversity comes the belief that whatever our differences, we respect and value each other; and, what we have in common, including a belief in the power of sports to make a difference, remains our bedrock principle.

“It is inevitable that people around the world – including from America and China – will have different viewpoints over different issues. It is not the role of the NBA to adjudicate those differences.

“However, 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.

“Basketball runs deep in the hearts and minds of our two peoples. At a time when divides between nations grow deeper and wider, we believe sports can be a unifying force that focuses on what we have in common as human beings rather than our differences.”

China’s state-run TV network announced today it will withhold NBA games from being broadcasted in China for at least this week and possibly longer. The impact, of course, spans further than just the Rockets as more than 500 million people watch at least one NBA game in China last year.

Silver is traveling to Shanghai on Wednesday and hopes to meet with former Houston Rockets and current president of the Chinese Basketball Association Yao Ming. The NBA under Silver has, for the most part, let their players and coaches express their political views without repercussions and in some instances state their own beliefs, for instance, pulling the NBA All-Star game from Charlotte for them banning transgender people from using government building bathrooms in accordance with their gender identities.

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The financial impact of this controversy will not be fully known for a while, but the NBA has taken a definite stand on this issue and has rightly taken the side of freedom of speech over business profits.