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Morey, whose Rockets were playing preseason games in China, tweeted his support for the Hong Kong protesters, saying in a since-deleted tweet: “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.” Though Morey has tried to clarify his statement, Tsai issued his take in a Facebook post.
“What is the problem with people freely expressing their opinion? This freedom is an inherent American value and the NBA has been very progressive in allowing players and other constituents a platform to speak out on issues,” Tsai said. The problem is, he said, there are certain topics that are third-rail issues in certain countries.
“Supporting a separatist movement in a Chinese territory is one of those third-rail issues, not only for the Chinese government, but also for all citizens in China.
“The one thing that is terribly misunderstood, and often ignored, by the western press and those critical of China is that 1.4 billion Chinese citizens stand united when it comes to the territorial integrity of China and the country’s sovereignty over her homeland. This issue is non-negotiable.”
Tsai explained why the Chinese people would be upset with Morey’s tweet by laying out the country’s history by foreign invaders.
“I am going into all of this because a student of history will understand that the Chinese psyche has heavy baggage when it comes to any threat, foreign or domestic, to carve up Chinese territories,” Tsai wrote. “When the topic of any separatist movement comes up, Chinese people feel a strong sense of shame and anger because of this history of foreign occupation.
“By now I hope you can begin to understand why the Daryl Morey tweet is so damaging to the relationship with our fans in China. I don’t know Daryl personally. I am sure he’s a fine NBA general manager, and I will take at face value his subsequent apology that he was not as well informed as he should have been. But the hurt that this incident has caused will take a long time to repair.”
Tsai, who is also on the NBA’s Board of Governors, asked Chinese fans to “keep the faith in what the NBA and basketball can do to unite people from all over the world.”
Several Chinese companies suspended work with the Rockets after Morey’s tweet. The general manager said in a separate tweet he was voicing his own opinion on the issues in Hong Kong.
“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.”
He added: “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.”
The Rockets have a strong following in China thanks to the most famous Chinese basketball player of all time, Yao Ming, who the team drafted in 2002. Yao is also the president of the country’s official basketball association.
“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,” the NBA said in a statement.
Protests in Hong Kong have made worldwide news over the past couple of months thanks to increased violence between the government and those fighting for increased rights and freedom. China appears extremely sensitive to outside parties encouraging the demonstrators, especially within a group they have strong ties to.