NBA Commissioner Adam Silver issued a statement standing up Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey’s right to free speech after the team executive was forced into days of apology and capitulation to the Chinese Communist Party.
“The NBA will not put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees and team owners say or will not say on these issues. We simply could not operate that way,” Silver said in a statement.
Silver’s statement comes after Morey on Sunday tweeted in support of pro-Democracy protesters clashing against police forces in Hong Kong.
By Monday, Chinese businesses with close ties to the single-party government had vowed to stop selling Rockets merchandise and televising the team's games. By Tuesday, China had canceled NBA events in the country and said it wouldn’t air any NBA preseason games that took place there.
The NBA has identified China as a $4 billion market and initially distanced itself from Morey's statement in support of democracy in Hong Kong.
U.S. politicians responded with rare bipartisan fury at the NBA's move to clamp down on Morey's expression of support for democracy, with many accusing the NBA of putting profits before American values.
Silver responded to those accusations, saying "for those who question our motivation, this is about far more than growing our business." He went on to explain that the NBA thought basketball could help unify the two countries.
China, for its part, bashed Silver and Morey for protecting free speech.
"We're strongly dissatisfied and oppose Adam Silver's claim to support Morey's right to freedom of expression," CCTV 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."
The NBA has frequently encouraged players to challenge U.S. law enforcement and police violence in the country.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.