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Adam Silver says China asked NBA to fire Rockets’ Daryl Morey

"There’s no chance we’ll even discipline him," NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, above, said of Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey. (Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP via Getty Images)

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said Thursday that China asked the league to fire Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey. Morey’s tweet earlier this month supporting protesters in Hong Kong caused a furor in China, and Silver said the NBA has already suffered “substantial” financial losses in that country.

Speaking in New York at an event organized by Time magazine, Silver emphasized what he described as his league’s commitment to free speech, even at the potential cost of an ever-growing foothold in the lucrative Chinese market.

“We made clear that we were being asked to fire him, by the Chinese government, by the parties we dealt with, government and business,” Silver said. “We said there’s no chance that’s happening.

“There’s no chance we’ll even discipline him.”

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Morey’s tweet — posted Oct. 4 before being quickly deleted, and reading, “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.” — hit the Internet just before Silver was set to travel to China for promotional events centered around a pair of exhibition games between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Brooklyn Nets.

The NBA’s first statement on Morey’s tweet began by saying, “We recognize that the views expressed by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey have deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China, which is regrettable.” That garnered the league criticism in the United States from those who saw it as overly solicitous toward a repressive foreign regime, particularly given the league’s culture of outspoken commentary by players and coaches on political and social issues.

Silver said Thursday that the word “regrettable” was “modifying the fact that we’d upset our Chinese fans.” He added that “there was no regret directed to the [Chinese] government."

That initial statement was followed by another one in which Silver said his league “will not put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees and team owners say or will not say on these issues.”

At a news conference last week in Tokyo, a day before he joined the Lakers and Nets in Shanghai, Silver asserted, “I want this to be clear, and I think there’s been some confusion around this: We are not apologizing for Daryl exercising his freedom of expression."

The commissioner said Thursday that when he and his staff saw the use of “regrettable” being “misinterpreted,” they “wanted to make an absolute clear statement, that the values of the NBA, these American values — we are an American business — travel with us wherever we go, and one of those values is free expression.

“We wanted to make sure that everyone understood we were supporting free expression.”

Upon his return to the United States, Silver found it “confusing” that the NBA was still being excoriated for its reaction to Morey’s tweet.

“I had thought we’d taken a principled position. I thought we hadn’t so-called ‘acquiesced’ to the Chinese,” he said.

An ESPN report Tuesday indicated that Lakers star LeBron James advocated for Morey to receive some sort of punishment. At a meeting in Shanghai between Silver and the two NBA teams, James was said to have argued that if a player caused as huge a problem for the league with a tweet or comment, that player would face repercussions.

Silver reportedly pushed back by noting that the NBA has done nothing to muzzle players who have spoken out sharply against President Trump, a group that includes James himself. The four-time NBA MVP also insisted, per ESPN, that he and the other players on the China trip shouldn’t have to answer questions while there about Morey’s tweet, and Silver agreed to scrap all the news conferences planned around the two games they were set to play.

Upon his return to Los Angeles, James made it clear that he was still upset at Morey, telling reporters Monday that the general manager was “misinformed or not really educated” when he sent his tweet.

“So many people could have been harmed, not only financially but physically, emotionally, spiritually,” James said. “Just be careful what we tweet, what we say and what we do.”

Those remarks quickly generated a negative response, with James painted by many as a hypocrite who was more concerned with selling shoes in China than supporting the pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong protesters burn LeBron James jersey, chant profanity toward Lakers star

James subsequently posted a pair of tweets in which he said he was “not discussing the substance” of Morey’s tweet but the “consequences and ramifications” of it.

“My team and this league just went through a difficult week,” he tweeted. “I think people need to understand what a tweet or statement can do to others. And I believe nobody stopped and considered what would happen. Could have waited a week to send it.”

Those messages, as well as comments Tuesday in which James said, “I also don’t think every issue should be everybody’s problem as well,” did not appear to represent a major success in damage control for him. As for the NBA’s relationship with China, Silver said Thursday that he was “not even sure where we’ll go from here.”

“The losses have already been substantial,” the commissioner said. “Our games are not back on the air in China, as we speak, and we’ll see what happens next.”

Noting that he has been visiting China for 15 years, as the NBA has been staging games there, Silver said, “I felt we had made enormous progress in terms of building cultural exchanges with the Chinese people, and, again, I have regret that much of that was lost.”

“The financial consequences,” he added, “have been and may continue to be fairly dramatic."

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LeBron James usually gets it right. On Daryl Morey, he was the one who was ‘misinformed.’

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