The NBA statement originally made in English had a different twist when it came out in Chinese.
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The NBA said Monday on its official Chinese social media account that it was “extremely disappointed” by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s “inappropriate” tweet about Hong Kong, which “severely hurt the feelings of Chinese fans.”
The Chinese-language post on the Twitter-like Weibo microblogging platform differed from the original statement in English by Chief Communications Officer Mike Bass.
Bass’ original statement does not call Morey’s remarks “inappropriate” nor mention “hurt feelings” — a phrase commonly used by Chinese authorities to describe perceived gaffes by foreign parties. In English, Bass only said it was “regrettable” that Morey’s views “deeply offended” many in China.
Morey tweeted a now-deleted image that read “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong,” in reference to four months of pro-democracy demonstrations in the semiautonomous Chinese territory, which has been mired in escalating violence between protesters and law enforcement. As a result of the tweet, the Chinese Basketball Association — whose president is Yao Ming, the former Rockets center — said Sunday it was suspending its relationship with the team, and Chinese media giant Tencent and Chinese state television said they would no longer be broadcasting Rockets games.
Both Morey and the NBA then said his tweets do not represent the Rockets or the league.
The divergent language in the NBA’s Chinese Weibo statement appears to be an effort to assuage people in China who have expressed outrage over Morey’s initial tweet, though Monday’s post appeared to be insufficient for many on Weibo. Commenters accused Morey of supporting Hong Kong independence and called on Chinese basketball fans to boycott the NBA.
Calls to the NBA’s offices in Beijing and Shanghai rang unanswered Monday, a national holiday.
Morey’s tweet prompted a wave of censure from Chinese companies.
A search Monday for Houston Rockets merchandise on Chinese e-commerce platform Taobao turned up zero results. Li-Ning, a major Chinese sporting goods brand, said in a statement Sunday that it was suspending cooperation with the Rockets because of Morey’s “mistaken remarks.” Hupu, a sports news website, has likewise suspended all coverage of the Rockets and locked the section of its website previously dedicated to the team.
Meanwhile, some U.S. lawmakers have condemned the NBA for succumbing to Chinese censorship.
The NBA has allowed its players and coaches to be outspoken on social and political issues in the United States, which makes this move stand out.
A former British colony, Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997 under the framework of “one country, two systems,” which promises the territory certain democratic freedoms not afforded to the mainland. Some anti-government protesters in recent months have violently expressed their opposition to the ruling Communist Party.
AP researcher Yu Bing in Beijing contributed to this report.
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