Daryl Morey vs. China?

The Houston Rockets president posted a controversial tweet that rocked relations between the NBA and China.

In what might have attracted less attention in other circles, Daryl Morey has started quite the ruckus for the NBA in voicing his opinion on the protests in Hong Kong, as the NBA has a vested interest in Chinese politics. In a simple tweet carrying nothing but an image saying, “Fight for Freedom. Stand With Hong Kong,” the Houston Rockets president has started an international dispute over how appropriate it was for him to make the statement.

The backlash has been swift, with Morey feeling obligated to walk back on his statements almost instantly and multiple people putting out damning statements directed at Morey. Other consequences include an NBA spokesperson putting out statements for both U.S. and Chinese media and the Chinese Basketball Association (headed by former Houston Rocket Yao Ming) announcing a moratorium on relations with the Rockets. Ouch.

The most alarming result seems to be that the NBA itself, an organization that tends to defend the civil rights of all of its players and participants, is not nearly as concerned with defending Daryl Morey as it is with protecting its own financial interests. This is the same league that moved its 2017 All-Star game out of Charlotte because of a bill that weakened anti-discrimination laws for the LGBTQ+ community.

The same one that has allowed players to feel comfortable vocalizing their own political opinions; remember the “shut up and dribble” drama with Laura Ingraham and LeBron James?

The league even stands in stark contrast to the NFL who still faces scrutiny over the refusal to defend the right of Colin Kaepernick to protest the anthem, lest we forget that Kaepernick played in the 2013 Super Bowl and that his last game was three seasons later at the age of 29, which was most certainly not past his prime.

The NBA of course did inform all its players that they would be required to stand for the anthem, but the league’s players have still felt comfortable overall engaging themselves politically. As for other leagues, the MLB has remained largely apolitical, and the NHL has more international players than Americans, thus limiting their interest in American politics.

That leaves the NBA as one of the only professional sports leagues in the U.S. that is comfortable embracing free speech, save for the national women’s soccer team (God bless Megan Rapinoe).

The NBA now stands at a crossroads. While they are still probably doing better than the NFL, women’s soccer did do well to set the pace for other athletes with a handful of unapologetic and scathing criticisms of the current presidential administration and another world championship.

Without a doubt, the NBA has been dragged into what is perhaps the greatest geopolitical hassle in which they have ever been involved, and it is clear that they are weighing their options. On Wednesday, Oct. 9, two fans were removed from a preseason 76ers’ game for displaying pro-Hong Kong signs, a day after Adam Silver said that the league would not be apologizing for the stance of Daryl Morey.

To further complicate the issue, the league makes a ton of money through its partnership with China, having recently signed a streaming deal worth an estimated $1.5 billion, but they also stand as an important part of American culture, as I would be willing to bet more people know who wore Chicago Bulls #23 than who was our nation’s 17th president (hint: he took office after Lincoln was shot and was the first president to be impeached).

NBA fans are to be held in limbo while the league waits to make its final decision. Will free speech be defended by the organization, or will they side their hearts with their pocketbooks?

Post Author: Zach Short