People are talking about the Houston Rockets basketball team and a message a team official left on social media.
Writing on the Twitter message service, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey expressed support for protesters in Hong Kong.
His tweet has been widely criticized in China. Some Chinese companies and show business personalities are moving to cut ties with the Rockets and the National Basketball Association (NBA). But some observers say the effort to rebuke the NBA could hurt China’s own basketball program.
On Tuesday, a growing number of Chinese businesses moved to cut ties with the Houston Rockets. Among them were state-operated China Central Television and the Chinese Basketball Association. People voiced their anger with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver on the internet. They criticized his decision not to apologize for Morey’s tweet.
Several performers, including actress Jinyan Wu and nine members of the boy band UNINE, decided not to appear at NBA events in Shanghai this week.
The boycott appears to be largely a protest of Silver’s comments. The NBA chief said on Monday “that Daryl Morey is supported in terms of his ability to exercise his freedom of expression.”
Silver noted support from the owner of the Brooklyn Nets team, Joe Tsai, who is a Canadian-Taiwanese. Writing on Facebook, Tsai gave an explanation of why many Chinese were unhappy with Morey’s tweet. He likened Morey’s tweet to a “third-rail” issue, meaning one that is very controversial. He also said that some of Hong Kong’s history might cause some Chinese to be angry over the issue.
The dispute started after Morey tweeted an image that said: “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.” He then attempted to remove the message after sending it. Many people said the tweet showed support for the pro-democracy activists who have been holding demonstrations in Hong Kong since June. Some of the protests have turned violent, with injuries and property damage reported.
Ju Xijin is the top editor for the Global Times newspaper. He wrote: “This is the result when sport enters (a) political minefield.”
The Global Times receives financial support from China’s Communist Party.
U.S. basketball has hundreds of millions of Chinese fans and is a valuable business in China. Because of the importance of its ties, both Morey and the NBA have offered written apologies over the tweet controversy.
However, their effort to ease Chinese anger over the incident have offended basketball fans outside of China. They say the NBA is choosing money over human rights.
Silver has admitted that the incident has affected the NBA’s image in China.
Costs for China
At least one observer says anger at the NBA could hurt China if it lets the situation get worse with a wider U.S. boycott or, what some call, a people-to-people war.
China’s own basketball league, known as the CBA, depends on foreign competition and cooperation.
Emmy Hu is a China business expert who once worked for Chinese company Alibaba. Hu noted the case of Yao Ming, who is chairman of the CBA. She said that Yao Ming would not be as famous as he is today had he not played for the Houston Rockets.
Hu said the controversy has turned into a people-to-people war -- a clash between Chinese and American cultural ideas and values. She said the dispute might hurt the NBA over a short period of time. But, she added that it could hurt the basketball market in China if local fans remain politicized and the issue continues to be blown out of proportion.
Not politically correct?
The controversy is a recent example of the difficulty that foreign businesses have in operating in China.
Taiwanese businesses Yifang Fruit Tea brand and the bakery and coffee store 85°C have offered apologies for incidents considered politically incorrect in China.
At the same time, the creators of the American television program South Park made fun of the NBA’s apology. Trey Parker and Matt Stone wrote: “We too love money more than freedom and democracy…” They ended their criticism with the words, “We good now China?”
Their show is not widely available in China.
I’m Mario Ritter Jr.
Joyce Huang reported this story for VOA News. Mario Ritter Jr. adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
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Words in This Story
rebuke – v. to speak in an angry or critical way to someone usually for doing something considered wrong
band – n. a group of musical performers
controversial – adj. something likely to cause discussion, disagreement and argument
editor – n. a person who attempts to improve writing, audio or video products before they are published
fan – n. someone who actively follows and loves a sport or group of persons
blow out of proportion – phrasal verb. to treat something as if it is bigger or more important than it is