Nike has withdrawn Houston Rockets sneakers and other merchandise from stores in major Chinese cities after the basketball team’s general manager tweeted in support of Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters.
Managers of Nike stores in Beijing, Shanghai, and other cities received a memo from the company instructing them to remove the merchandise, according to Reuters.
Rockets general manager Daryl Morey had defended the Hong Kong protesters in a tweet, which he subsequently retracted. Morey then posted a statement saying he hoped “that those [Chinese fans] who are upset will know that offending or misunderstanding them was not my intention.”
The NBA subsequently issued a statement calling Morey’s comments “inappropriate” before backtracking and defending his right to free speech in the face of widespread public backlash.
The Chinese Basketball Association immediately cut ties with the Rockets after Morey’s tweet.
A manager at a Shanghai store said “Rockets products were hot before and when you stepped into the store, it was full of red.” Now the store is filled with the colors of the Golden State Warriors, blue and yellow.
Major Chinese online retail sites including Alibaba and JD.com also removed Rockets merchandise from their platforms, and a search on the sites for sneakers with the NBA logo turned up zero results.
The NBA is said to make $4 billion in revenue in the China, and the Chinese market is also crucial to Nike’s business.
Congressmen from both sides of the aisle sent a letter on Wednesday to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver stating, “It is outrageous that the Chinese Communist Party is using its economic power to suppress the speech of American inside the United States. It is also outrageous that the NBA has caved to Chinese government demands for contrition.”