The NBA has canceled media access for the remainder of its preseason tour of China in the latest outgrowth of a public relations crisis over freedom of speech and human rights issues.
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“We have decided not to hold media availability for our teams for the remainder of our trip in China. They have been placed into a complicated and unprecedented situation while abroad and we believe it would be unfair to ask them to address these matters in real time,” the league said in a statement on Friday.
On Thursday, a reporter questioning Houston Rockets players about the league's commitment to promoting social justice and how it squares with its business dealings with China, where pro-democracy protesters are being violently repressed in Hong Kong and ethnic minorities have been detained in the country's west. In a now-viral encounter, an NBA minder shut down the reporter's question. The NBA has since apologized for the incident.
This followed Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey tweeting a show of support for the Hong Kong protesters, which he quickly took down and apologized for under league pressure. U.S. politicians hailed the apology as shameful and evidence of U.S. companies bowing to Chinese pressure.
In the U.S., security at NBA preseason games has confiscated and destroyed signs from fans that question China's human rights practices.
In China, many fans have shown anger and resentment toward the NBA for questioning the legitimacy of China's practices. China said that questioning its treatment of Hong Kong protesters fell outside the bounds of free speech.
China represents a $4 billion opportunity for the NBA, which enjoyed massive popularity in the country before Morey's tweet.