Chinese broadcaster CCTV has said it will stop showing Houston Rockets games as the backlash in China grows over a tweet backing Hong Kong protests.
CCTV’s sports channel said in a statement on its Weibo channel Sunday night that it was “strongly opposed” to the “improper remarks” posted by the team’s general manager Daryl Morey.
Sponsors including sportswear brand Li Ning and the Shanghai Pudong Development Bank had announced Sunday they would stop cooperation with the team.
The problem started after Rockets’ general manager Daryl Morey tweeted a message supporting the Hong Kong protesters, saying “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.” The tweet was was subsequently deleted.
The Rockets have enjoyed a huge following in China since the club drafted Chinese star Yao Ming in 2002.
But fans on social media in China savaged Morey’s comments, with some urging he be fired.
The Rockets have been in damage control mode since then and Morey himself tweeted later that his earlier tweet was not meant to offend the NBA team’s massive Chinese fanbase.
His comments came as the NBA issued a statement distancing itself from the offending tweet and saying it was “regrettable” that the posting had offended so many fans in China.
“I did not intend my tweet to cause any offense to Rockets fans and friends of mine in China,” Morey said in a tweet Monday morning in Tokyo, where the Rockets are playing several matches this week.
“I was merely voicing one thought, based on one interpretation, of one complicated event. I have had a lot of opportunity since that tweet to hear and consider other perspectives,” he added.
“I have always appreciated the significant support our Chinese fans and sponsors have provided and I would hope that those who are upset will know that offending or misunderstanding them was not my intention,” Morey said.
He also reiterated that his tweets “in no way represent the Rockets or the NBA.”
The NBA issued its own statement, saying it recognised Morey’s views “have offended so many of our friends and fans in China, which is regrettable.”
The NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets are due to play two pre-season games at Shanghai and Shenzhen in China later this week.
“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,” the statement issued by chief communications officer Mike Bass said.
The Rockets have already tried to distance themselves from the controversy, with owner Tilman Fertitta on Friday writing on Twitter that Morey “does NOT speak for the @HoustonRockets... we are NOT a political organization.”
But the backlash in China has been fierce, with the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) saying it would sever all ties with the Rockets.
“General manager of Houston Rockets club Daryl Morey made incorrect comments about Hong Kong,” the CBA said on its official social media page on Sunday.
“The Chinese Basketball Association is strongly opposed to this and will suspend communication and cooperation with the club.”
Semi-autonomous Hong Kong has been battered by four months of increasingly violent pro-democracy protests.
The rallies were ignited by a now-scrapped plan to allow extraditions to mainland China, fuelling fears of an erosion of liberties in Hong Kong under the 50-year “one country, two systems” model China agreed before the 1997 handover from Britain.