The NBA’s China controversy continues to grow as the basketball organization has now canceled media access to players while they are visiting the communist nation.
On Friday, the NBA released a statement saying that allowing press to continue to ask questions put players in a “complicated” and “unfair” position.
“They [the teams] have been placed into a complicated and unprecedented situation while abroad and we believe it would be unfair to ask them to address these matters in real time,” the statement said, according to CNN.
NBA teams are currently in China to compete for Chinese fans. On Thursday, CNN reporter Christina Macfarlane attempted to ask players James Harden and Russell Westbrook about Chinese censorship. The Daily Wire’s Amanda Prestigiacomo reported that as Macfarlane asked her question, her microphone was taken away and she was scolded by a team representative.
“The NBA has always been a league that prides itself on allowing its players and coaches being able to speak out openly about political and societal affairs. I just wonder after the events of this week, and the fallout we’ve seen, whether you’d both feel differently about speaking out in that way in the future,” Macfarlane asked before she was chided.
“Um, excuse me, we’re taking basketball questions only,” a team representative said.
Macfarlane pushed back, saying: “It’s a legitimate question. This is an event that’s happened this week during the NBA.”
Later that day, NBA spokesman Mike Bass apologized for what happened to Macfarlane.
“During today’s Houston Rockets media availability, a team representative inappropriately interjected to prevent CNN’s Christina Macfarlane from receiving an answer to her question. We’ve apologized to Ms. Macfarlane as this was inconsistent with how the NBA conducts media events,” the statement said.
The NBA’s woes began after Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted support for Hong Kong protesters. Afterwards, Bass released a statement from the NBA denouncing Morey’s tweet and saying it “does not represent the Rockets or the NBA.” Morey later apologized for his comments and deleted his tweet.
The response from the NBA predictably led to a backlash. Fans began bringing pro-Hong Kong posters to games, but officials confiscated their signs. As Prestigiacomo reported, a husband and wife attending a preseason NBA game in Philadelphia were kicked out of the stadium after first having their pro-Hong Kong signs confiscated. The husband then shouted “Free Hong Kong” during the game and the couple was removed. The next night, a group wearing “Free Hong Kong” T-shirts in Washington, D.C. had their signs removed as well.
The Ringer reported that the NBA took its swift action following Morey’s statement because the Chinese Basketball Association threatened to sever ties with the Houston Rockets. China provides a lot of money to the NBA, so now Morey’s employment is in jeopardy. Bass’ full statement regarding Morey’s comments said:
We recognize that the views expressed by Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey have deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China, which is regrettable. 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. We have great respect for the history and culture of China and hope that sports and the NBA can be used as a unifying force to bridge cultural divides and bring people together.