The NBA is still feeling the effects in China from Daryl Morey’s support of Hong Kong

Ben Rohrbach | Yahoo Sports

In an interview with CNBC prior to the season, former NBA executive vice president and current Golden State Warriors chief operating officer Rick Welts acknowledged that tensions with the Chinese government would have a short-term impact on the league but suggested “this will pass.”

It does not appear as though the ice has thawed as the NBA prepares to enter its All-Star break.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Chinese fans continue to be “limited significantly in their opportunities to watch” the NBA four months after Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s tweet in support of pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong set off a global conflict.

Despite Morey’s public apology and softened rhetoric around the subject of authoritarianism in China from all levels of the NBA, government-run China Central Television (CCTV) has reportedly not broadcast a single game this season. Likewise, Chinese media conglomerate Tencent, which signed a reported $1.5 billion deal to carry games through 2024-25, no longer offers its equivalent of League Pass, which allowed customers to subscribe to the full NBA slate, per the L.A. Times.

Instead, Tencent reportedly only airs the free broadcasts it has in the past, covering one to three games per day. According to the L.A. Times, viewership for those games has held steady, although few advertisers continue to air commercials and fans have increasingly turned to illegal live streams. To put this all in perspective, more people in China watched the 2019 NBA Finals than in the U.S.

This could have serious ramifications for both the NBA and Tencent. The $1.5 billion signed in July “could be in jeopardy,” the L.A. Times reported, but the NBA was more optimistic in its response.

“We have had a great partnership with Tencent since 2009 and last July announced a five-year expansion,” NBA spokesman Mike Bass told the L.A. Times. “Through our expanded partnership, we look forward to continuing to work closely with Tencent to provide their hundreds of millions of daily users with NBA games and content, and deepen our long-standing connection with fans across the country.”

The NBA informed teams last month that salary cap projections for the 2020-21 season have decreased from $116 million to $115 million in the wake of the China controversy, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Morey’s tweet cost the NBA in excess of $150 million, Wojnarowski reported. Those figures would drastically change were Tencent to challenge the $1.5 billion deal.

The Rockets have bore the brunt of the impact since Morey tweeted, “Fight for freedom. Stand with Hong Kong” on Oct. 4. Once a fan favorite in China due to their history with Yao Ming, Rockets games are no longer carried in China. Per the L.A. Times, Tencent has even removed mentions of Houston in its news stories, and James Harden is only referenced in passing as an MVP candidate.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in October that the Chinese government pressured the league to fire the Rockets general manager. Silver declined, and CCTV reportedly suggested he could face “retribution” for supporting Morey. China’s government denied it asked for Morey’s firing. According to the New York Daily News’ Stefan Bondy, “Morey is expected to be a free agent” at season’s end.

Harden and LeBron James were among NBA dignitaries who rebuked Morey for costing the league financially with his public support of Hong Kong. In an October apology to China, Harden said, “We love everything there about them,” and James added, “I don’t want to get into a word or sentence feud with Daryl Morey, but I believe he wasn’t educated on the situation at hand, and he spoke.”

Meanwhile, the Chinese Basketball Association has been postponed in the wake of the recent coronavirus outbreak, and the NBA issued a memo to teams last week strongly discouraging travel to China as a result, per The New York Times’ Marc Stein. The NBA reportedly pledged $1.4 million to support relief efforts in China’s Hubei province, where the virus originated. Chinese consul general Huang Ping thanked the NBA and others for their support during a press conference in New York last week. Whether that signals improved relations between the two sides remains to be seen.

Enough hiding, it’s time for Morey to speak up

Why it’s time for Daryl Morey to talk

It’s unsettling to see Daryl Morey retreat so easily and allow others to take the shrapnel of critiques from all around. Addressing the issue would go a long way

Vincent Goodwill | Yahoo Sports

NEW YORK — It’s time for Daryl Morey to come out of hiding, step forward and account for the storm he created a month ago.

Morey’s tweet in support of Hong Kong against China put the NBA and his direct employer, the Houston Rockets, in a precarious position with one of its international partners. The long-tenured general manager watched the world burn in the time since, perhaps smartly from his point of view, but enough time has passed that he should address the issue.

Five minutes after Morey’s tweet, Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta issued a strong rebuke. Five hours later, all hell broke loose. It hasn’t been quite five weeks since the Oct. 4 tweet, but it’s approaching that mark and Morey has been silent.

The storm that seemed overwhelming and all-encompassing has settled with the start of the regular season and the usual rhythm that accompanies the 82-game dance. Narratives and storylines driven by actual basketball have pushed Morey’s saga to the background and it’s fair to wonder if him potentially speaking up will restart a news cycle that has died down.

But Morey can’t skate on this, not in the way of punishment but accountability. He had his reasons for speaking up on the topic at the time he did it. Whether he thought about the ramifications is clearly unknown because he hasn’t spoken up since.

The dirty work was left to everyone else affected by his words.

The NBA had to issue a statement, then another stronger statement in the wake of its own stumble. Players who were in China and Tokyo had to bear the brunt of words they didn’t speak and had to interpret a deleted tweet that sent off an international firestorm.

Players were branded as hypocrites by the “shut up and dribble” crowd, as if caring and having intimate knowledge of one civil issue made them qualified to speak on foreign relations and business relationships that predated them and will exceed their own shelf lives.

The league was raked over the coals for a lukewarm response and clumsy handling, for its inconsistencies due to the relationship with a country whose values align through dollar signs not morality.

And as healthy as the conversation has been in some respects, Morey’s absence has been too noticeable for too long. He’s savvy with his words and thoughtful.

His approach has been copied throughout the league and he’s respected.

He’s not some adolescent youth that doesn’t know the weight of a tweet or a relationship — especially considering being in Houston and the franchise’s two decades-long partnership with China.

Morey isn’t required to speak on issues he’d rather keep private — to date he hasn’t spoken out on injustices that could be close to the hearts of his players and staff that happen right in his backyard, and he shouldn’t feel compelled to.

But he started this mess, and can’t run from it.

It isn’t quite cowardly, but it is noticeable when an outspoken voice goes silent and an always present figure turns invisible.

“He started it, he should finish it,” an NBA player told Yahoo Sports. “We didn’t ask to be in it, but we had to deal with that in another country.”

Had he resigned from his position to mitigate the damage, an argument could be made he wouldn’t have to defend his feelings. And although he doesn’t have to defend staying at his post in the quest to elevate the Rockets to championship status, it’s a little unsettling to see him retreat so easily and allow others to take the shrapnel of critiques from all around.

There’s no muzzle on Morey. Multiple league sources told Yahoo Sports that Morey hasn’t been instructed not to speak on the matter by the NBA, and the Rockets have said the same thing. It would be understandable if either party felt like Morey would do more damage by addressing his comments, but that isn’t the case.

Morey didn’t return messages Friday and it isn’t known whether he was at Barclays Center for his team’s loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Friday night.

Nobody will dispute Morey having the best of intentions with his tweet and most won’t even argue with the content. But intentions don’t pay the bills and silence won’t save any more money.

A league source told Yahoo Sports there is financial damage, but the estimates of a 15 to 20 percent salary-cap decrease was a doomsday scenario that won’t come to fruition. And if that happened, the players’ association would have serious grounds to approach the league about its players suffering tangibly from a situation they didn’t initiate — a battle commissioner Adam Silver doesn’t want to have through these recent years of labor peace.

Still, there’s been a price to pay as previously pristine reputations have been tarnished, even if only temporarily.

There’s inconsistencies across the board. The NBA has its tricky relationship with China, not dissimilar from many big-box American brands that clearly want to benefit from China’s massive population without endorsing its policies. LeBron James has been outspoken about many civic issues, particularly unarmed black people getting gunned down by police, but was eerily quiet when 12-year-old Tamir Rice was killed in James’ home state.

James’ Q rating took a blow when he took Morey to task but wasn’t as careful with his words as he should’ve been.

Morey, one would think, would want to stand on his principles and defend his feelings. His job shouldn’t be in jeopardy and if he were removed it would be a bad look for the NBA.

Seemingly, he has nothing to lose.

On the topic itself, hardly anyone disagrees.

But he started it, and larger conversations about international relationships, civic values and the value of the almighty dollar followed.

The only thing missing is Daryl Morey.

China suspends relationship with Houston Rockets after GM tweets support for Hong Kong protests

Blake Schuster | Yahoo Sports

UPDATE: The Chinese backlash against Daryl Morey and the Houston Rockets has caused team ownership to debate whether or not to oust him as general manager, according to John Gonzalez of The Ringer. Conflicting reports have emerged, however, as Sam Amick of The Athletic and Marc Stein of The New York Times have both tweeted Morey’s job is not in jeopardy.

They did note deny that this situation is getting ugly, however.

Original story below.

The strong bond between the Houston Rockets and China’s basketball operation is deteriorating at a breakneck pace after general manager Daryl Morey expressed solidarity with protesters in Hong Kong.

Chinese Basketball Association officials announced they are suspending cooperation with the Rockets, which had become one of the most popular teams in the nation following superstar Yao Ming’s Hall of Fame career in Houston as the game expanded its global footprint.

Morey’s since-deleted tweet read, “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong” in reference to increasingly violent protests over the state’s autonomy.

The response by both the franchise and China has been swift with Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta immediately denouncing Morey’s comments with his own tweet.

The CBA, which unanimously elected Yao chairman in 2017, added that it strongly opposed Morey’s “inappropriate” remarks and has additionally blocked Rockets games this season with a free offer for subscribers to switch “home teams” on its NBA League Pass-like streaming service.

The Rockets have reportedly also lost all Chinese sponsors as the blackout of the franchise begins to take hold.

The implications for the NBA are clearly massive here as the league has worked for years to build a loyal fanbase in China, becoming its most popular sport in the process.

Fertitta has since said that Morey’s job with the Rockets is safe, yet has liked multiple comments on Instagram calling for him to fire the GM.

Currently, the Houston Rockets are in Tokyo as part of the NBA Japan Games.