NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal on Tuesday defended Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey for posting a tweet in support of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong that kicked off an ongoing dispute between with league and its business partners in China.
The NBA’s business interests in China have been at a standstill since Morey’s Oct. 6 tweet generated backlash from Chinese fans and government officials. While the NBA defended Morey’s right to free speech, Commissioner Adam Silver said Beijing asked him to fire the Rockets executive, while Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James accused Morey of failing to consider the potential financial ramifications that could stem from his tweet.
Speaking on TNT’s “Inside the NBA” on opening night of the 2019-20 season, O’Neal said Morey was right to call attention to the Hong Kong protests.
“One of our best values here in America is free speech. We’re allowed to say what we want to say and we’re allowed to speak up about injustices, and that’s just how it goes. If people don’t understand that, that’s something that they have to deal with.” O’Neal said. “I just thought it was unfortunate for both parties and then you have people speaking when they don’t know what they’re talking about. But Daryl Morey was right. Whenever you see something wrong going on anywhere in the world, you should have the right to say ‘that’s not right.’ That’s what he did.”
Morey has not made any public comment on the situation since he attempted to clarify his views in a series of tweets earlier this month. The NBA has said he will not face any discipline over his tweet.
James has faced widespread criticism in recent days over his reaction to Morey’s tweet. The Lakers star has said he will not comment on the situation again.
The NBA has yet to resolve its dispute with Chinese sponsors. While NBA games are once again being broadcast on Tencent Sports, the league’s streaming partner in China, state-run CCTV has pulled games off the air.
During a recent appearance at the Time 100 Health Summit, Silver said he told Chinese government officials that there was “no way” Morey will be fired or disciplined. Beijing has denied requesting that Morey be fired.
“Again, you know, when it comes to business, sometimes you have to tiptoe around things. But again, they understand our values, we understand their values and here, we have the right to speak. Especially with social media, we can say whatever we want to say, when we want to say it,” O’Neal said.
“China can’t us what to do and we can’t tell them what to do. That’s the bottom line,” he added.
O'Neal's remarks came during a lengthy discussion on TNT's pre-game coverage of the opening night of the NBA's 2019-20 season in Los Angeles. When TNT returned to its set for halftime coverage, a Hong Kong flag was on prominent display in the crowd.
This story has been updated.