How much can the NBA debase itself over the reaction of one general manager to the pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong?
This isn’t a rhetorical question.
Ever since Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey made the mistake of coming out on the side of the protesters in Hong Kong, there hasn’t seemed to be a bottom to the depths of pusillanimity to which the world’s premier basketball league will sink in order to appease the partisans of Beijing.
It’s almost like the Mariana Trench of moral abasement.
And now, we’ve reached the point where the NBA appears willing to kick fans out of games for holding up signs supporting the Hong Kong protesters.
According to WPVI, two fans were kicked out of a Philadelphia 76ers exhibition game against a Chinese team for the offensive signs on Tuesday. That’s bad enough until you consider that the game was being played in Philadelphia.
Sam Wachs and his wife had been holding the signs and voicing their support for the pro-democracy protesters during the contest against the Guangzhou Loong Lions.
“There’s no foul language, no politics.’ I asked ‘Why not?’ They said, ‘Don’t give me a hard time,'” he said of his interaction with security at the Wells Fargo Center.
— Sam Wachs (@gogowachs) October 9, 2019
The signs read “FREE HONG KONG” and FREE HK.”
Wachs says he got up and yelled, “Free Hong Kong,” before he was escorted out of the arena.
“I think it’s shameful, harsh reaction,” he told WPVI. .
Granted, this is just the fan’s version of events.
In a statement, the 76ers said: “At last evening’s game, following multiple complaints from guests and verbal confrontations with others in attendance, two individuals were warned by Wells Fargo Center staff about their continuing disruption of the fan experience. Ultimately, the decision was made by Wells Fargo Center personnel to remove the guests from the premises, which was accomplished without incident.”
Still, I’m kind of surprised Wachs thought there was any other kind of reaction the NBA was capable of when it came to this sort of thing.
I suppose the ejection must have shocked him because, ever since the outbreak of national anthem-protesting in the NFL, I was under the impression that freedom of speech was sacrosanct in professional sports.
But apparently not when it comes to that sweet, sweet Chinese market money, as Morey found out after he fired off a since-deleted tweet.
“Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong,” he said. And, for those seven words, he reaped a whirlwind of opprobrium.
First came Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta:
Listen….@dmorey does NOT speak for the @HoustonRockets. Our presence in Tokyo is all about the promotion of the @NBA internationally and we are NOT a political organization. @espn https://t.co/yNyQFtwTTi
— Tilman Fertitta (@TilmanJFertitta) October 5, 2019
This is perhaps understandable — if not defensible — given the fact the Rockets have an outsized fanbase in China because the country’s only basketball legend, Yao Ming, played with the team.
However, the NBA apparently couldn’t resist the siren call of the Chinese market, either.
“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,” the league said in a statement.
“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,” the statement added.
“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 take long for Morey to backpedal, either.
“I did not intend my tweet to cause any offense to Rockets fans and friends of mine in China,” he tweeted. “I was merely voicing one thought, based on one interpretation, of one complicated event. I have had a lot of opportunity since that tweet to hear and consider other perspectives.
“I have always appreciated the significant support our Chinese fans and sponsors have provided and I would hope that those who are upset will know that offending or misunderstanding them was not my intention.
“My tweets are my own and in no way represent the Rockets or the NBA.”
2/ I have always appreciated the significant support our Chinese fans and sponsors have provided and I would hope that those who are upset will know that offending or misunderstanding them was not my intention. My tweets are my own and in no way represent the Rockets or the NBA.
— Daryl Morey (@dmorey) October 7, 2019
This didn’t seem to mollify anyone in the fiercely nationalistic Chinese market, as far as I can tell.
In fact, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s statement — in which he suggested that while Morey had “freedom of speech … [w]hat I also tried to suggest is that I understand there are consequences from his freedom of speech and we will have to live with those consequences” — wasn’t good enough for state broadcaster CCTV.
“We’re strongly dissatisfied and oppose Adam Silver’s claim to support Morey’s right to freedom of expression,” the broadcaster said in a statement. “We believe that any remarks that challenge national sovereignty and social stability are not within the scope of freedom of speech.”
As for how this backpedaling worked at home, consider the authors of these next two tweets and ask yourself how unpopular a sociopolitical stance must be in order to unite them on anything:
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) October 7, 2019
The only thing the NBA should be apologizing for is their blatant prioritization of profits over human rights. What an embarrassment. https://t.co/bbiwCBTwc1
— Beto O’Rourke (@BetoORourke) October 7, 2019
If you can get Ted Cruz and Beto O’Rourke together on anything, the takeaway here is that Morey needs to tweet something about Israel and then backtrack. We’ll have peace in the Middle East before next Tuesday.
Yet, instead of realizing how fundamentally unpopular this stance is, the NBA is now kicking people with pro-Hong Kong signs out of games held in America.
Keep plumbing those depths, NBA.
As long as you’re dealing with a government that doesn’t even recognize your country’s First Amendment right to free speech within its own borders, there’s no hair shirt itchy enough, no level of debasement low enough to get you back into the good graces of a government no one should be appeasing in the first place.
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