Elizabeth Warren says NBA ‘chose its pocketbook over its principles’ in response to Daryl Morey’s Hong Kong tweet

"China is trying to use its market power to silence free speech and criticism of its conduct."

Democratic presidential hopeful Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren speaks with the press at the Spin Room after the third Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by ABC News in partnership with Univision at Texas Southern University in Houston, Texas on September 12, 2019. (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN / AFP)FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images
Elizabeth Warren speaks with the press after the third Democratic primary debate last month in Houston. –FREDERIC J. BROWN / AFP/Getty Images

Sen. Elizabeth Warren joined a chorus of fellow senators from across the political spectrum Monday, admonishing the NBA for choosing “its pocketbook over its principles” following a tweet from Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey that elicited a backlash from China.

Morey, a former Celtics executive and co-founder of the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, posted an image Friday on Twitter expressing support for Hong Kong, where pro-democracy demonstrators have mounted a months-long campaign of disruptive protests — triggered by a bill that would have allowed certain people charged with crimes to be extradited to China — against the authoritarian Chinese government’s influence in the semi-autonomous region.

Advertisement

Morey’s since-deleted post was simple — “Fight for freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.” — but it elicited a forceful and sweeping condemnation from Chinese basketball fans. The Chinese Basketball Association and Tencent Sports, which televises the NBA in China, both announced over the weekend that they were cutting ties with the Rockets, which has been one most popular NBA teams in China, since it drafted Yao Ming in 2002. The CBA also canceled two planned exhibition games in China involving the Rockets’ G League team and the owner of the Rockets tweeted that Morey “does NOT speak for the Houston Rockets.”

In a statement Sunday, the NBA — which recently signed a $1.5 billion broadcasting deal with Tencent — called Morey’s tweet “regrettable. While reaffirming his rights to free expression, the statement said that Morey’s words had “deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China,” where the government tightly censors political speech. There was even briefly speculation that Morey might be fired, though neither the Rockets nor NBA handed down any form of discipline.

Still, given the league’s financial stake in the Chinese market, the less-than-supportive response was interpreted — and criticized — by both Democratic and Republican elected officials as the NBA seeking to appease a foreign partner at the expense of free expression.

Advertisement

“China is trying to use its market power to silence free speech and criticism of its conduct,” Warren tweeted Monday afternoon. “In response, the NBA chose its pocketbook over its principles—and our values. We should all be speaking out in support of those protesting for their rights.”

Sen. Ed Markey, a fellow Massachusetts Democrat, also alluded to the situation Monday, calling it “unacceptable to silence those speaking out for freedom of expression in Hong Kong, or anyone in America supporting them.”

Warren (who is — or, at least, was — a fan of the Rockets) wasn’t the only presidential candidate to weigh in. Her tweet came after former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke called the NBA’s response “an embarrassment” on Sunday. Julian Castro, a former mayor of San Antonio, called on the United States to “not allow American citizens to be bullied by an authoritarian government.”

On both sides of the aisle, a number of other senators also called the NBA’s response a mistake. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who rarely finds himself in agreement with Warren, called it shameful.

“We’re better than this; human rights shouldn’t be for sale & the NBA shouldn’t be assisting Chinese communist censorship,” Cruz tweeted.

President Donald Trump has not directly addressed Morey’s tweet, but told reporters Monday at the White House that China needs to deal with the Hong Kong protests in a “peaceful manner.” In June, Trump reportedly promised Chinese President Xi Jinping that the United States government would stay silent on the protests as the two countries worked to ease trade tensions.

Close

Get the latest breaking news sent directly to your phone. Download our free app.