Protesters voice support for Hong Kong before Rockets game

Kevin Arnovitz | ESPN

HOUSTON — A group of about 35 people staged a rally Saturday outside the Toyota Center before the Houston Rockets‘ 126-123 win over the New Orleans Pelicans to voice support for protesters in Hong Kong.

As fans filed into the arena, the demonstrators gathered in the entrance plaza, wearing black T-shirts emblazoned with the words “Fight For Freedom” on the front and “China, Stop Bullying” on the back. They held American flags as well as signs expressing support for free expression and criticizing the Chinese government. Two attendees held a large, gold banner that read, “Hong Kong’s fight is everyone’s fight.”

The rally was coordinated by two local groups: the Vietnamese Community of Houston and Vicinities and Texas for Hong Kong. The same coalition organized approximately 30 people on Thursday for the Rockets’ home opener, and they sat behind the south basket and stood holding their signs during stoppages in play.

The Rockets have been at the center of the conflict between the NBA and China that was sparked by the reaction to a tweet on Oct. 4 by Rockets general manager Daryl Morey expressing support for the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong. In the days that have followed, broadcasters in China, Chinese sponsors and the Chinese Basketball Association have severed or scaled back agreements with the NBA.

Chris Wong, a research scientist and Hong Kong native who has organized events in Houston to bring awareness to the situation in his home city, helped assemble participants from the local Hong Konger community for both Thursday’s and Saturday’s home games.

“My reaction [to the Morey tweet] was, ‘Great, someone is supporting and publicly speaking for Hong Kong,'” Wong said. “But the reaction from the Chinese government and the machinery in China was such an overreaction just for someone sending out a symbolic tweet. I was mad.”

The Rockets, who featured eight-time All-Star center Yao Ming for nearly a decade and played in the NBA’s first game in China in 2004, are one of China’s most popular NBA teams. The franchise has cultivated extensive commercial partnerships in the nation since drafting Yao in 2002. Although Tencent, an ESPN partner, has resumed streaming NBA games in China, the Rockets have not appeared on the platform in the opening week of the season.

Tram Ho, an internist who emigrated from Vietnam to the United States in 1982 after spending six months as a refugee in Hong Kong, said she was inspired to help organize the events in Houston by activists inside Barclays Center during a Brooklyn Nets preseason game. Tram, who counts herself as a casual Rockets fan first drawn to the NBA by retired Rockets legend Hakeem Olajuwon, attended both Thursday’s and Saturday’s games and believes the current friction between China and the NBA is a harbinger of a larger conflict.

“China is not only bullying the United States right now, but [it] has been bullying other countries in Asia and South China Sea for a long time,” Tram said. “I feel very sorry for Hong Kong, a democratic society. The two systems — it’s not going to work.”

Fanny Wong, a certified public accountant in her 50s who immigrated to the United States from Macao in the 1970s, held a sign that read, “Stand with Hong Kong, Be Taller than LeBron, who kneels down for ¥¥¥ [the symbol for Chinese Yuan].” She wore a James Harden-style costume beard with a red zipper over the mouth to symbolize what she characterized as the self-censorship of many NBA players.

“I can understand that a lot of athletes, they have a lot of financial investment,” Wong said. “What I would appreciate is that they be honest about that. Just say, ‘We have a lot of interests at stake there, and there are certain things we need to compromise.’ I’d respect that. They stood for justice somewhere else when there’s no financial conflict of interest. But then where there is a conflict of financial interest, ‘Oh, wait a minute. We don’t understand.’ To me, that’s a lie. I’d respect it more if they were honest about it.”

As game time neared, the group began to chant, “Stand for freedom, no censorship,” before breaking into staccato chants of “Morey, Morey, Morey” and then “NBA, NBA, NBA.”

“We are currently seeing people seeking profit over freedom,” Jean Lin, a 28-year-old Taiwanese-American research technician, said when asked how the situation with the NBA and China is instructive. “Making that money and reaching that big market in China becomes more prominent, disregarding true American values.”

James Harden slams ball on the court, hits himself in the face

Nick Schwartz | USA TODAY SPORTS

Rockets superstar James Harden had a chance to get the last shot of the half in a tie game against the Pelicans on Saturday night, but his attempt was deflected by Josh Hart as the buzzer sounded. Harden was upset with the outcome and likely felt that he was fouled – it’s James Harden, after all – and he reacted by throwing pounding the the ball into the court – only for it to bounce up and smack him in the face.

Hart’s reaction was priceless.

Harden, it should be noted, has struggled from the floor to open the season. Harden shot 2-for-13 in the Rockets’ season opener against the Bucks, and was 3-for-14 at halftime against the Pelicans.

Russell Westbrook and James Harden already got into a heated argument in their first game together as Rockets

James Harden-Russell Westbrook argument goes viral

SARA JANE HARRIS | SPORTING NEWS

The NBA season has just started, and it looks like James Harden and Russell Westbrook are already showing frustration toward each other.

A clip of the Rockets stars appearing to exchange words during Thursday’s game against the Bucks quickly went viral on Twitter.

Westbrook reunited with Harden when the Rockets acquired him in a trade with the Thunder during the offseason.

The two were not only teammates for three years in Oklahoma City, but they have been friends since age 10.

Westbrook downplayed his argument with Harden after the game, suggesting their close relationship will mean arguments such as these will sometimes be on public display.

Earlier this year, Harden predicted in an interview with GQ that things wouldn’t go perfectly at the start of the season.

“It’s like, yo, we’ll figure it out,” Harden said. “Everything isn’t necessarily going to be smooth at first, there are going to be ups and downs, and that’s part of an 82-game season. Hopefully, by the end of the season, we’ve caught a rhythm and everybody is on the same page going into the playoffs. That’s all you can ask for.”

Harden added: “There’s a different kind of relationship and communication that we have, a different type of excitement that we have for each other. We don’t really care or pay attention to what other people say or think.”

You Can’t Turn Steph Curry Into James Harden

Ray Ratto | DEADSPIN

Stephen Curry is one of the leading conduits of migraine headaches in modern American sports. That is to say, his name is invoked when migraines are inspired, which is correlation rather than causation.

Monday, for example, he was an innocent bystander when Michael Jordan said on the Today show that Curry wasn’t a Hall of Famer. This immediately caused the internet to vomit upon itself even though (a) Jordan was pretty clearly joking and (b) is technically correct in that one is not a Hall of Famer until elected to the Hall of Fame. Jordan may not be much for team creation (see Hornets, Charlotte, Freefall) but he knows the difference between the present and the future.

Tuesday, though, and more to the point, his head coach Steve Kerr downgraded Curry’s running mate Klay Thompson to “unlikely to play this season” after amateur doctors across the land with neither knowledge nor access had projected his return at around the all-star break. This exacerbated the running analysis that Curry’s already-high usage rate should spike beyond Hardenesque levels for him to win the Most Valuable Player award in an otherwise difficult year for the company. Some even postulate that a ball-dominant Curry makes them better, which is wrong for reasons that those of you stupid enough to continue will see below.

(Here is the point at which someone must surely say soon that Jordan makes the most sense of anyone on the subject of Steph. Everything else on the subject is either confusing, wrongheaded or flies in the face of everything that made Curry Curry.)

Thompson’s adjusted recovery timeline makes the Warriors significantly worse, since the optimistic view of their season assumed Thompson’s full return in time for a late-season return to full Warrior-hood. In other words, they’re likely to be worse, both individually and collectively. Bet the under on the 48.5 win total, based on: the time it will take D’Angelo Russell to acclimate himself as Curry’s new Thompson; Draymond Green’s ability to guard multiple people at once rather than merely alternately; Kevon Looney’s amiable work ethic vs. his physical limitations; and Willie Cauley-Stein’s eventual return to whatever the Willie Cauley-Steins of the world do.

As for Curry, though, the speculation that his usage rate could skyrocket and that he would therefore be more likely to put together a dazzling individual season of numbers flies in the face of the fact that removing quality teammates typically makes one worse rather than better. Defending Curry as teams are likely to defend him will probably help Russell’s numbers, but nobody is clamoring for that one way or another.

But even if Curry’s numbers did spike as some people expect, that would make him less appealing as a player because a ball-centric Curry is antithetical to the Curry that resides atop Jordan’s Not-A-Hall-Of-Famer-Yet list. Curry lives in a ball-movement universe and made his reputation not as a stand-alone consumer of the shot clock but as the most electric moving part in a gearbox full of them. The NBA is clearly getting away from the one-option-fits-all ball that once made Carmelo Anthony a thing, and Curry was a prime example of the game’s aesthetic advancement. And now people think he should regress for the glory of his own stat line because winning an MVP and missing the playoffs is somehow an equitable trade?

No. Curry is … well, was the heart of one of the great ensemble shows in sports history, and even wanting him to be something else (which is to say something worse) is either the heartfelt plea of a fan of another team or the yowling of an idiot. He shares with his teammates and his teammates share with him for a loftier goal, or there’s no real point to the exercise. Thompson is the key to that ball movement because he needs the ball in his hands less than any other person in the sport; he holds the NBA record for shots made before touching the ball, that’s how quick his release is. Without him, the meh washes over you like room-temperature high tide—you don’t notice you’re drowning until this seaweed plugs your nostrils.

Put another way, Stephen Curry as James Harden is simply not worth the minimal benefit of being a slightly more appealing MVP candidate.

But if you don’t believe that, remember that no city throws a parade for an MVP winner, and without the possibility of drinking straight from the bottle on a raucous city street while the cops do nothing except smile, sports may as well be insurance adjusting.


Ray Ratto only watches the NBA to see how many experts can be wrong simultaneously about anything.

Rockets star James Harden wants nothing to do with the NBA’s dispute with China

Ryan Young |Yahoo Sports

While it seems everyone has their take on the NBA’s controversy with China, James Harden is steering clear.

Harden — whose team and general manager are at the heart of the issue — insisted Sunday that he’s just focused on the season.

“I’m staying out of it,” Harden said. “I’m focusing on what we have and trying to get better. We’re a week and a half away from the regular season.”

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted his support for the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong earlier this month, which set off a massive chain of events in the hours and days that followed. The Rockets quickly distanced themselves from the tweet, and the NBA struggled in its response while trying to please everybody. China quickly cut ties and started a media boycott of the Rockets, something that could cost the team $25 million this season.

Things weren’t any better while NBA teams were holding exhibition games in Asia, either. The league cancelled all media availability near the end of the trip — something it said it decided without China’s input. A Rockets staff member even awkwardly shut down a question directed at Harden on the incident while the team was in Japan, which the NBA has since apologized for.

While things appear to be slowing down in the international controversy, it has brought unlikely sides together on the issue.

Politicians on both sides of the isle have slammed the league for its initial response to Morey’s tweet, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Sen. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). Secretary of State Mike Pompeo even got in on the action. Outspoken NBA coaches Gregg Popovich and Steve Kerr delved into the topic repeatedly, too — which, naturally, sparked yet another feud with President Donald Trump.

The Rockets will officially open their season on Oct. 24 when they host the Milwaukee Bucks. Clearly, they want to finish the preseason as quietly as possible with the China controversy in their rearview mirror.

Even with seemingly the entire world tuned in after the simple tweet, Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni is confident his players can get past it.

“It’s a distraction,” D’Antoni said, via USA Today. “But guys can handle it. We still got good work in. Everything’s fine. It happens. It’s regrettable that it happened, but as I said, our work will get done.”

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.