TOKYO — NBA commissioner Adam Silver said he’s still planning to go to China on Wednesday in advance of preseason games there between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Brooklyn Nets later in the week, even after China’s state broadcaster canceled plans to air the games.
“Daryl Morey, as general manager of the Houston Rockets, enjoys that right as one of our employees,” Silver said. “What I also tried to suggest is that I understand there are consequences from his freedom of speech and we will have to live with those consequences.”
He added that he “regrets” how so many Chinese people and NBA fans were upset by the now-deleted tweet.
Silver said it would be appropriate for people involved with the league “to be sensitive” to different cultures when tweeting or communicating. He spoke in Tokyo before a preseason game between the NBA champion Toronto Raptors and Rockets.
His comments came as Chinese state broadcaster CCTV said it will no longer air two NBA preseason games set to be played in the country.
CCTV is also reviewing all its cooperation and exchanges involving the NBA, it said in a statement posted to CCTV Sports’ official social media account.
The broadcaster indicated the decision was prompted by earlier remarks Silver made in Japan.
“We’re strongly dissatisfied and oppose Adam Silver’s claim to support Morey’s right to freedom of expression,” the statement read. “We believe that any remarks that challenge national sovereignty and social stability are not within the scope of freedom of speech.”
Chinese smartphone maker Vivo joined other businesses in saying Tuesday that it will suspend its business with the NBA over Morey’s comments and the NBA’s reaction. Vivo had been a sponsor for the Lakers-Nets games in China.
Silver is going to Shanghai on Wednesday and said he hopes to meet with officials, including Chinese Basketball Association president Yao Ming, and some of the league’s business partners there in an effort to find some common ground. He said he hopes Chinese officials and fans look at the totality of the impact of the three-decade-plus relationship between the league and their country, and urged them to see his response while acknowledging there are political differences between the countries.
“I’m sympathetic to our interests here and our partners that are upset,” Silver said. “I don’t think it’s inconsistent on one hand to be sympathetic to them and at the same time stand by our principles.”
Silver said the NBA did not expect CCTV to cancel plans to air the Lakers-Nets games.
“But if those are the consequences of us adhering to our values, I still feel it’s very, very important to adhere to those values,” Silver said.
A ceremonial NBA Cares event for an educational center in Shanghai with the Nets was canceled Tuesday, though the Nets participated in other events as scheduled. The Lakers were arriving there Tuesday. Silver said NBA Cares would still honor its bigger mission surrounding that event, including providing a gift of new computers.
The rift between China and the NBA started late last week when Morey posted a tweet with an image that read: “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.” He later deleted the post and tweeted an apology after Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta publicly clarified the team does not take political positions.
The strong reactions to Morey’s tweet underscore China’s sensitivity about foreign attitudes toward the ongoing Hong Kong protests that have grown into violence in the semi-autonomous territory. China has accused foreign parties in the United States and elsewhere of encouraging the demonstrations.
The protests were sparked by a proposed extradition law that would have allowed suspects to be sent to China to face trial. Activists saw that as a threat to the legal rights that Hong Kong residents have under the current “one country, two systems” framework.
On Tuesday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the public has already expressed its position.
“How can it be possible to carry out exchanges and cooperation with China without knowing China’s public opinion?” Geng said. “NBA’s cooperation with China has been going on for quite a long time, so for what should be said and what should be done, they know best.”
But Silver said the league “will not put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees and team owners say or will not say on these issues.”
Silver’s statement was sent out shortly before he was to hold a news conference in Tokyo.
Silver said, “it is inevitable that people around the world — including from America and China — will have different viewpoints over different issues. It is not the role of the NBA to adjudicate those differences.”
Silver also responded to those criticizing the league’s approach over the past several days, including some U.S. lawmakers who have called for the league to take action — some even suggesting the league should cancel its games in China.
“This is about far more than growing our business. … Values of equality, respect and freedom of expression have long defined the NBA — and will continue to do so,” Silver said. “As an American-based basketball league operating globally, among our greatest contributions are these values of the game.”
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.