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Chinese media drops NBA exhibition games over executive’s pro-Hong Kong tweet 

Chinese state television has announced it will not air NBA exhibition games played in the country as pressure builds on the US basketball league following a Houston Rockets executive backing protests in Hong Kong. Rockets general manager Daryl Morey apologised on Monday for any hurt caused by the tweet which he quickly deleted over the weekend. However, Chinese government, team partners and fans were not satisfied and the league lost sponsors and broadcasts in China, an important NBA market.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver spoke up for freedom of speech saying it was not up to the NBA to regulate what players, employees and team owners said, nor to adjudicate differences between people around the world. However, state television CCTV strongly opposed Silver’s support of the manager.

It said any comments that challenged a country’s sovereignty and social stability were “not within the scope of freedom of speech”. IT added it was reviewing its relationship with the NBA. The basketball league had earlier issued a statement saying it regretted Morey’s remarks, drawing criticism from US lawmakers.

However, Silver, who was in Japan for an exhibition game, defended Morey’s right to express his opinions. In a statement, he said, “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.” He later said in a press conference that the NBA was not apologising for Morey “expressing his freedom of expression.”

“I regret, having communicated directly with many friends in China, that so many people are upset, including millions and millions of our fans,” Silver said. Referring to freedom of expression, he said, “As a league we are not willing to compromise those values.” And added, “I’m sympathetic to our interests here and to our partners who are upset. I don’t think it’s inconsistent on one hand to be sympathetic to them and at the same time stand by our principles.”

On the other hand, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang referred to criticism of Morey’s comment by the Chinese Basketball Association, which he said made China’s position “very clear”. In a regular briefing, he said, “I suggest they pay attention to the reaction of the ordinary Chinese people.”

Months of anti-government protests in Chinese-ruled Hong Kong have angered Beijing, which has accused foreign governments of stirring up anti-China sentiment.

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