NBA Cancels All Remaining Press Events During China Tour Over ‘Complicated and Unprecedented’ Controversy

Staff members clean the court floor before an NBA exhibition game between the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers at the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai, China, October 10, 2019. (Stringer/Reuters)

The National Basketball Association announced Friday that it would not hold media availabilities for the rest of its China tour, citing the controversy surrounding Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey and his support for protests in Hong Kong, which has been met with tremendous blowback from the Chinese.

“They have been placed into a complicated and unprecedented situation,” the NBA said of the teams in a statement. “… It would be unfair to ask them to address these matters in real time.”

The Brooklyn Nets and the Los Angeles Lakers played in an exhibition game in Shanghai on Thursday in the midst of the controversy, with another game scheduled for Saturday night in Shenzhen. Earlier this week, Chinese broadcasters announced they would not be airing the games in protest over Morey’s comments.

NBA media sessions this past week have centered around the controversy, after NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said on Tuesday that Morey had the right to speak his mind on the issue, and that “there are consequences from his freedom of speech and we will have to live with those consequences.” Players and coaches have still been wary to talk about the issue.

During a press conference in Tokyo on Thursday, following a Houston Rockets-Toronto Raptors exhibition, CNN reporter Christina Macfarlane asked Rockets duo James Harden and Russell Westbrook if “after the events of this week and the fallout we’ve seen, whether you both feel differently about speaking out in that way in the future?” A Rockets team representative then shut down the question, saying “excuse me, we are taking basketball questions only,” despite protests from Macfarlane.

The NBA subsequently released a statement apologizing for the handling of the situation, stating “this was inconsistent with how the NBA conducts media events.”

Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr was also asked in a press conference Thursday about the situation, and whether he had ever been asked about “human rights abuses” during his previous trips to China.

Kerr denied the issue ever being brought up and then pivoted, saying “nor has our record of human rights abuses come up either… People in China didn’t ask me about, you know, people owning AR-15s and mowing each other down in a mall.”

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