Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted support for Hong Kong protesters, who are trying to maintain and expand their freedoms.
China’s economic might has largely spooked people around the NBA from addressing the content of that message. Even Morey backtracked.
The only other person I’d seen maybe give a substantive response on the China-Hong Kong issue was Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who said Morey was “right in saying that.” But a Clippers spokesperson later said Rivers was referring to Morey’s right to express himself. Another team official trying to avoid political controversy or a genuine clarification of Rivers’ intent? Impossible to say.
But Shaquille O’Neal – an all-time great player, prominent voice on NBA telecasts and (maybe most relevantly here) minority owner of the Sacramento Kings – made himself clear.
O’Neal on TNT:
We as American people, we do a lot of business in China. And 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. But I just think it was unfortunate for both parties. And then you’ve got people speaking when they don’t know what they’re talking about. But Daryl Morey was right. 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. But again, when it comes to business sometimes you have to tiptoe around things.
That’s a brave take to deliver in the current landscape.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver is trying to deescalate tension with China. Many around the league resent Morey for getting the league into a difficult situation.
The most important thing is what O’Neal said. But it’s also worth wondering: How will it go over?