The commissioner of the National Basketball Association says he’s not apologizing for Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey exercising his freedom of expression, but regrets the extent the controversial tweet about Hong Kong has upset people.
Commissioner Adam Silver said it’s not the league’s role to regulate people’s views on varying issues after receiving criticism over its initial reaction to Morey’s tweet.
“I think one of the things that comes with freedom of expression often is very difficult conversations,” Silver said Tuesday in a press conference in Japan. “In any society, that comes with that sort of engagement. I think nobody ever suggested that when somebody exercises those rights that it means that people are going to say, aha, now I agree, or that everything will be friendly.”
Morey tweeted his support over the weekend for Hong Kong anti-government protesters with an image that read “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.”
He tried to defuse the situation after Houston’s owner Tilman Fertitta said Morey didn’t speak for the organization. The Chinese Basketball Association said it was suspending its relationship with the Rockets due to the tweet.
Silver released a statement before the press conference, saying it’s inevitable people around the world will have different opinions on different issues.
“The NBA will not put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees and team owners say or will not say on these issues,” he said. “We simply could not operate that way.”
“Basketball runs deep in the hearts and minds of our two peoples. At a time when divides between nations grow deeper and wider, we believe sports can be a unifying force that focuses on what we have in common as human beings rather than our differences.”
Silver’s initial statement said it was “regrettable” that Morey’s since-deleted tweet offended many in China.
On Tuesday, he said he recognized the NBA’s initial statement left people angered, confused or unclear as to what the league stands for.
“Over the last three decades, the NBA has developed a great affinity for the people of China,” he said.
“We have seen how basketball can be an important form of people-to-people exchange that deepens ties between the United States and China. At the same time, we recognize that our two countries have different political systems and beliefs. And like many global brands, we bring our business to places with different political systems around the world.
“But for those who question our motivation, this is about far more than growing our business.”
Silver said he and Morey have spoken, but wouldn’t get into the details of their conversations. There’s currently no plans to cancel any events on the NBA’s pre-season Asia tour, Silver said, and is sympathetic to partners of the league who were upset.
The NBA along with its players and coaches have been outspoken critics to several big social issues in the United States including racial equality and actions of President Donald Trump.
The Rockets played the defending NBA champion Toronto Raptors on Tuesday in Japan.
Silver also said values of equality, respect and freedom of expression have long defined the NBA and will continue to do so.