As the NBA continues to manage the backlash caused by a since-deleted tweet sent out by Rockets' general manager Daryl Morey, James Harden issued an apology for Morey's controversial comment. and the NBA released a statement, but the repercussions from the tweet are becoming an international problem for the league.
"We apologize, we love China, we love playing here," Harden said. "For both of us individually, we go there once or twice a year and they show us the most support and love. We appreciate them as a fanbase, and we love everything they're about. We appreciate the support they give us individually, and as an organization."
The league has already taken a hit on the business side of things from this incident, with Tencent, the NBA's exclusive digital partner in China, suspending business relations with the Rockets. The company is offering fans who bought a team-pass to watch the Rockets this season a chance to to choose a different team. The NBA issued the following statement Sunday night regarding Morey's comments:
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.
This isn't becoming an issue just for the Rockets either. Shams Charania of The Athletic reported that the Chinese Basketball Association has decided to cancel planned exhibition games with the NBA G League affiliates of both the Rockets and Dallas Mavericks later this month in China.
The Rockets have been the most popular NBA team in China for years, in large part due to Hall of Famer Yao Ming spending his entire NBA career in Houston. Ming became an unofficial global ambassador for the NBA during his career, helping it reach audiences in China and around the world. Over the years, the Rockets had made a point to show appreciation for their large fanbase in China, even going so far as to create jerseys honoring their strong ties with their international fans.
The tweet Morey sent out read "Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong," showing support for the ongoing protests happening in Hong Kong in opposition of a controversial bill that would allow criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China. Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta sent out a tweet acknowledging that Morey's opinions do not reflect the views of the Houston Rockets.
Despite the clarification and the apology from Morey, and now Harden, the damage has already been done. The league will try to resolve this issue as best it can to ensure its relationship with China doesn't become irreparable, but it appears that China's relationship with the Rockets specifically may be coming to an end.