NBA won't apologise for 'freedom of expression' after league boss' Hong Kong support

The NBA commissioner has defended the right to “freedom of expression” after China responded furiously to a league chief’s tweet supporting Hong Kong.

Anti-Beijing, pro-democracy protests have been taking place for months in Hong Kong despite a crackdown from authorities and threats of Chinese military intervention.

Last week, Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey tweeted a picture with the words "fight for freedom stand with Hong Kong".

He has since deleted the tweet.

Two pre-season basketball games scheduled to take place this week in China – involving the Los Angeles Lakers and Chinese-owned Brooklyn Nets - will not be aired by Chinese state broadcaster CCTV as a result.

The broadcaster is now reviewing its relationship with National Basketball Association the league, which is highly popular in China.

South Park has also been scrubbed from the Chinese internet after its latest episode satirised the country’s reaction.

On a visit to Tokyo, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said: “We are not apologising for Daryl exercising his freedom of expression.

“I regret again having communicated directly with many friends in China, that so many people are upset.”

“It's my hope that when I'm in Shanghai I can meet with the appropriate officials and discuss where we stand and again put those remarks from Daryl Morey and my remarks in an appropriate context,” he added.

Meanwhile, China's best-known basketball player is Hall of Famer Yao Ming, who spent his NBA career with the Houston Rockets.

Yao is now the president of the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA), which has said it is suspending its relationship with the Rockets as part of the response to Mr Morey's tweet.

The CBA also cancelled plans to have the G League affiliates from Houston and Dallas play pre-season games in China later this month.

"I'm hoping that together Yao Ming and I can find an accommodation," Mr Silver said. "But he is extremely hot at the moment, and I understand it."

The NBA has postponed Wednesday's scheduled media sessions in Shanghai for the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers, and it remains unclear if the teams will play in China this week as scheduled.

Those two teams - because of LeBron James starring for the Lakers and Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba's co-founder Joe Tsai now owning the Nets - would likely have been a huge television draw.

At least two other Shanghai NBA events in advance of the start of the China games were called off amid the ongoing rift.

On Wednesday, a large NBA shop in Beijing was mostly deserted.

Han Li, a worker in Beijing, said: “It gets politics involved. After all, what China did is not too much, compared to what they (NBA) did.

“After all, we want peace and unity, the national unity. While you just said that, isn't it too against our unity or peace? I think China did a great job. I support China.”

Why was South Park banned?

Chinese basketball fans gather outside of a hotel for a press conference that was later postponed ahead of an NBA preseason basketball game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets. Credit: AP

South Park's creators tackled the issue head on, making the latest episode of their satirical cartoon about how Hollywood self-censors to gain access to China's vast consumer market.

A check of the popular video streaming sites Youku and Bilibili turned up zero mentions of "South Park".

A search on the search engine Baidu did pull up mentions of "South Park", but some results were removed.

Creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone issued a faux apology, saying: "Like the NBA, we welcome the Chinese censors into our homes and into our hearts. We too love money more than freedom and democracy."

A man walks past statues of NBA players Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors, left, and Lebron James of the Los Angeles Lakers holding Chinese flags in the entrance of an NBA merchandise store in Beijing. Credit: AP

Meanwhile, video games maker Activision Blizzard said on Tuesday it kicked a Hong Kong esports pro out of a tournament and seized his prize money after he voiced support for Hong Kong's pro-democracy protest movement.

The company also said it suspended Ng-wai Chung, known as Blitzchung, from the Hearthstone Grandmaster card game for a year.

Mr Chung's offence was to shout "Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times" during a post-game interview on the weekend with two Taiwanese "casters", or hosts, who ducked under their desk, apparently not wanting to be associated with the slogan used by protesters in the semiautonomous Chinese city.

Under the game's rules, players can be removed for behaviour that results in public disrepute, offends the public or damages its image, Blizzard said, adding that the two hosts were also fired.

Chinese authorities generally do not officially comment on the myriad acts of censorship carried out on the internet and in other forms every day.