Poor Daryl Morey. Just three days ago, the Houston Rockets general manager was best known for having one of the NBA’s winningest career records and for pioneering analytics in the sport.
How was he to know that tweeting an image stating “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong” would lead to him and his organization being banned from China, and the NBA backpedaling furiously to hang on to its multibillion-dollar business relationship with the communist-controlled country?
Didn’t Morey know that in 2008, when the league launched NBA China — which according to Forbes is now worth more than $4 billion, roughly $133 million for each of the NBA’s 30 franchises — that all NBA managers, coaches, players, cheerleaders and ball boys forfeited their constitutional right to free speech?
Didn’t Morey know that — along with a host of leading carmakers, airlines, tech companies, luxury brands and retailers — the NBA and all its affiliates would be labeled “separatists” and “enemies of the motherland” and banned from the lucrative Chinese market if he dared to voice his support for something as controversial as “freedom”?
Yes, Morey deleted the offending tweet almost immediately, and then promptly tweeted to his “Chinese fans and sponsors” that “offending them or misunderstanding them was not my intention” and that he was “merely voicing one thought, based on one interpretation, of one complicated event.” But shouldn’t he have known that the price of admission to the Chinese market is the abandonment of America’s most precious values?
Clearly, the answer is no. As a U.S. citizen and a person of great wealth and influence, Morey didn’t give a tweet stating “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong” a second thought.
Neither did he realize that the long arm of China’s censors and state-controlled media would target him and his organization with a vehemence reminiscent of the public shamings that were commonplace during the Communist Party’s brutal Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s.
All that being said, we’d like to thank Daryl Morey for, perhaps unwittingly, shining a bright light on the reality facing 1.4 billion Chinese under one-party communist rule, and the very constraints on freedom that the Hong Kong protesters fear are in their future.
For its part, after an initial statement calling Morey’s tweet “regrettable,” the NBA has since reaffirmed what Commissioner Adam Silver called its “long-held values” including support of freedom of expression. As a league, Silver continued, “we are not willing to compromise those values.”
Let’s hope Silver and the NBA stand by those words going forward. NBA great Michael Jordan famously said, “If you quit once, it becomes a habit.” That’s just as true for freedom as it is for basketball.