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.
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A short time after Morey posted that statement, the NBA said it was "regrettable" that the deleted tweet offended many in China. That followed several companies in China, including some of the NBA's major business partners there, lashing out over Morey's original tweet.
Fostering strong relationships with China has been a priority of the NBA for at least three decades.
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.
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.
That led to Houston owner Tilman Fertitta turning to Twitter to say that Morey does not speak for the Rockets, and sparking an outcry that included the Chinese Basketball Association — whose president is Yao Ming, the former Rockets star center — saying it was suspending its relationship with the team.
The Rockets, largely because of Yao, have an enormous Chinese following. But after Morey's tweet, even the Chinese government's consulate office in Houston issued a statement saying it "expressed strong dissatisfaction" with the team.
NBA Chief Communications Officer Mike Bass released the following statement:
"We recognize that the views expressed by Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey have offended so many of our friends and fans in China, which is regrettable. 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. 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.”
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 which said they would not be showing Rockets games.
It wasn't immediately clear if Morey's new tweets or the NBA's statement that followed would be enough to salvage those relationships.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.