China won’t broadcast or stream NBA preseason games held in the country. It’s a dramatic escalation of a political firestorm that began when the general manager of the Houston Rockets expressed support for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
CCTV’s sports channel said Tuesday that it had “decided to immediately halt” broadcasts of the basketball league’s preseason matches in China after it expressed its “strong dissatisfaction” over NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s response to Daryl Morey’s tweet. The broadcaster is also reviewing its wider relationship with the NBA.
Tencent (TCEHY), the NBA’s exclusive digital partner in China, also said it would suspend live streaming for two NBA preseason games in China.
The controversy began when Morey tweeted his support for the demonstrations in Hong Kong over the weekend. His post, which has since been deleted, included an image that read, “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong.” The former British colony now controlled by China has been rocked by months of political unrest.
Those remarks led several Chinese businesses to suspend ties with the Rockets, throwing that team’s relationship with the country into doubt. That backlash triggered an initial response from the NBA on Monday. In a statement, the organization said that it recognized that Morey’s views “have deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China, which is regrettable.”
But that statement, too, invited more criticism — this time from Americans. US politicians accused the NBA of kowtowing to Beijing to protect its financial interests.
On Monday, Silver himself waded into the fray. He reportedly spoke to Kyodo News, a local news outlet in Japan, and issued a response to the blowback.
“I have read some of the media suggesting that we are not supporting Daryl Morey, but in fact we have,” Silver told Kyodo News. “I think as a values-based organization that I want to make it clear … that Daryl Morey is supported in terms of his ability to exercise his freedom of expression.”
In its decision Tuesday to halt NBA broadcasts, CCTV pointed to “the response of NBA Commissioner Adam Silver in Japan.”
“We express our strong dissatisfaction and opposition to Silver’s stated support of Morey’s right to free speech. We believe any remarks that challenge national sovereignty and social stability do not belong to the category of free speech,” the network said. “We will also immediately examine all other cooperation and exchanges with the NBA.”
That decision has immediate implications. The Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets are set to face off in Shanghai on Thursday, followed by a rematch in Shenzhen on Saturday. Some social media users in China have been calling for boycotts of the NBA events.
Silver responded to CCTV’s decision at a press conference in Japan, calling it “unfortunate.”
“It’s not something we expected to happen,” Silver told reporters. “But if that’s the consequence of us adhering to our values, we still feel it’s critically important to adhere to those values.”
Silver added that he is traveling to Shanghai on Wednesday ahead of the game between the Lakers and the Nets. He said he hopes he can meet with the “appropriate” officials to discuss the matter and put Morey and his remarks “in an appropriate context.”
“But I’m a realist as well, and I recognize that this issue may not die down so quickly,” Silver added.
CNN’s Steven Jiang, Yong Xiong and Laura He contributed to this report.