NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal gave his support to Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey on Tuesday, saying the executive “was right” in his comments that ignited a furore between the NBA and China.
Speaking on TNT television’s Inside the NBA show, former Los Angeles Lakers star O’Neal said Morey was entitled to tweet support for Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters earlier this month.
“Daryl Morey was right,” O’Neal said. “Whenever you see something wrong going on anywhere in the world, you should have the right to say ‘That’s not right’ and that’s what he did.”
O’Neal said nothing should inhibit free speech.
“We as American people do a lot of business in China,” O’Neal said. “They know and understand our values, and we understand their values. And 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.
“And if people don’t understand that, that’s something that they have to deal with.”
Morey triggered a crisis earlier this month after tweeting an image captioned “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.”
It came right before the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets arrived in China for what proved to be a tense two-game exhibition tour, with broadcasters refusing to air the games, public anger raging, and local sponsors cutting ties with the NBA.
Hong Kong has been rocked by months of demonstrations by citizens who accuse Beijing of chipping away at its freedoms. China has portrayed the protesters as violent separatists and bristled at what it calls “foreign interference” in the matter.
The backlash in China against Morey’s comments cast a cloud over the NBA’s lucrative broadcasting, merchandising and sponsorship interests in the country, where it has legions of fans.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver said last week China had demanded Morey be sacked for his tweet, a claim later denied by Beijing.