The Rockets were hoping the issue of GM Daryl Morey’s now-deleted Tweet about the Hong Kong protesters — where he used the slogan “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong” — would go away. Morey apologized, the Rockets distanced themselves from the comments, and even the NBA released a statement saying Morey did not speak for the league.
It has not been enough, the issue has not gone away.
In Japan, where the Rockets are for a couple of exhibition games, James Harden also tried to distance himself from the comments and shore up his love of China. Via Agence France-Presse:
“We apologize. We love China,” he said, standing alongside fellow Rockets guard Russell Westbrook.
“We love playing there. Both of us, we go there once or twice a year. They show us most support so we appreciate them.”
Joe Tsai, the new majority owner of the Brooklyn Nets and a Chinese national, also has weighed in on the issue.
Tsai’s perspective on this mirrors the official Chinese line, such as doing things like calling the protesters “separatist.” Also in that history should be the note that the Sino-British Joint Declaration that handed over control of Hong Kong to China from Britain said that Hong Kong’s capitalist system and way of life would remain unchanged and untouched by China for 50 years. The protesters are arguing that China is violating that and impinging on the rights and lifestyle in Hong Kong.
The protests in Hong Kong have been going on for months and started with people in the semi-autonomous region protesting a new extradition law that allowed Hong Kong residents to be sent to mainland China. Those protests have grown in both size and scope, morphing into a larger movement as residents there strive to keep their freedoms and push back against what they see as growing Chinese influence and interference in the region. China itself has responded with increasingly intense crackdowns on the protesters, which included one protester being shot.
The Rockets have been one of the most popular NBA teams in China, second only to the Warriors last season, according to the “red card” report for 2019. The fact the Chinese Basketball Association announced it has ended cooperation with Rockets, and that Tencent sports will not broadcast Rockets games in China will be a blow to the team and its popularity in the world’s largest market.