CCTV, China's state broadcaster, has confirmed it will not broadcast the two National Basketball Association (NBA) pre-season exhibition games taking place in Shanghai and Shenzhen as the row over the Houston Rockets general manager’s Hong Kong pro-freedom Twitter post escalates.
Tencent, which owns NBA digital streaming rights in China, said it would also ‘temporarily suspend’ its NBA pre-season broadcast arrangements after Rockets executive Daryl Morey tweeted a message of support for anti-government protestors in Hong Kong.
Morey quickly deleted and apologised for his tweet, from which the club and NBA distanced themselves.
The initial response saw the Rockets’ Chinese partners suspend relations with the franchise and broadcasters said they would stop showing their games.
But now both of the NBA’s key broadcast partners in China have confirmed they will not show the Los Angeles Lakers-Brooklyn Nets games taking place in the country on 10th and 12th October.
CCTV’s strong-worded statement, confirming it would not show the exhibition games, said: ‘We believe that any comments that challenge national sovereignty and social stability are not within the scope of freedom of speech.’
Adding it would: ‘immediately investigate all co-operation and communication involving the NBA.’
A Nets publicity event at a school in Shanghai was cancelled two hours before its scheduled start with no explanation given.
In a statement on Monday, the NBA appeared to hedge its protection of Morey's rights to free speech with its interest in maintaining strong Chinese relations. A league statement described the comments as ‘regrettable’ and also acknowledged Morey had ‘deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China.’
However, on 8th October, NBA commissioner Adam Silver stated his support for the Rockets executive, telling reporters in China that his organisation was clear that "Daryl Morey is supported in terms of his ability to exercise his freedom of expression.”
Adding: "I accept that it is also Chinese government's and Chinese businesses' right to react to those words and, at least from my long-time experience in the NBA, it will take some time to heal some of these issues."
In response to criticism of the NBA's initial response to the incident, Silver added in a statement: ‘I recognise our initial statement left people angered, confused or unclear on who we are or what the NBA stands for.
‘Over the last three decades, the NBA has developed a great affinity for the people of China. We have seen how basketball can be an important form of people-to-people exchange that deepens ties between the United States and China.
‘It is inevitable that people around the world - including from America and China - will have different viewpoints over different issues. It is not the role of the NBA to adjudicate those differences.
‘However, 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. We simply could not operate that way.’
The incident is undoubtedly damaging for the NBA which has aggressively been pursuing growth in a market where its games draw millions of viewers through streaming platforms. In May this year, the NBA also opened its largest store outside North America in Beijing.