China, Chinese sponsors lash out after Houston Rockets general manager’s tweet on Hong Kong

A file photo of Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey. (AP Photo)

Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tried Sunday to defuse the rapidly growing fallout over his deleted tweet that showed support for Hong Kong anti-government protesters, saying he did not intend to offend any of the team's Chinese fans or sponsors. How it started The uproar started when Morey tweeted an image that read ``Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.'' referring to the four-month-old protests in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory. Beijing has been extremely sensitive about foreign attitudes toward the ongoing protests and increasing violence in Hong Kong. China has accused foreign parties in the US and elsewhere of encouraging the demonstrations. What followed Houston owner Tilman Fertitta tweeted to say that Morey does not speak for the Rockets. "Listen.(at)darylmorey does NOT speak for the (at)HoustonRockets. Our presence in Tokyo is all about the promotion of the (at)NBA internationally and we are NOT a political organization," he tweeted. The NBA said it was ``regrettable'' that the deleted tweet offended many in China. NBA Chief Communications Officer Mike Bass said the league recognizes that Morey's tweet ``deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China, which is regrettable.'' Bass added that the league supports individuals ``sharing their views on matters important to them.'' ``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,'' Bass said. How China reacted The Chinese government's consulate office in Houston issued a statement saying it ``expressed strong dissatisfaction'' with the team. ``We have lodged representations and expressed strong dissatisfaction with the Houston Rockets, and urged the latter to correct the error and take immediate concrete measures to eliminate the adverse impact,'' the consulate general's office said in a statement Sunday. Several companies in China, including some of the NBA's major business partners there, lashed out over Morey's original tweet. This included the Chinese Basketball Association - whose president is Yao Ming, the former Rockets star center - saying it was suspending its relationship with the team. Other criticism came from Tencent, a major media partner of the NBA in China with a streaming deal that is worth $1.5 billion over the next five years, and Chinese state television. Both of them said they would not be showing Rockets games. Chinese athletic apparel maker Li-Ning also released a statement saying it was upset with Morey's tweet. Morey responds ``I did not intend my tweet to cause any offense to Rockets fans and friends of mine in China,'' Morey tweeted early Monday from Japan, where Houston is playing this week. ``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,'' Morey continued. ``My tweets are my own and in no way represent the Rockets or the NBA.'' Why China matters to the NBA China has teams in the U.S. playing preseason games this week, the Rockets are about to play two games in Japan and the Los Angeles Lakers - with one of the biggest global sports stars in LeBron James - and Brooklyn Nets set to play Thursday in Shanghai and Saturday in Shenzhen, China. The NBA has a China office, just announced plans to add a gaming team in Shanghai to the NBA 2K League, and officials in both countries say as many as 500 million Chinese watched at least one NBA game last season. Several NBA players - including major current and former stars like Stephen Curry and Kobe Bryant - go to China annually to promote their individual brands, and the World Cup held in China earlier this summer saw countless fans attending in NBA jerseys. (with inputs from AP)