Northwestern alum, Rockets GM Daryl Morey’s tweet on Hong Kong sets off firestorm for NBA


Daily file photo by Colin Boyle

Medill Prof. J.A. Adande (Medill ’92) speaks with Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey at a January 2018 campus event.

Amy Li, Campus Editor

As demonstrations in Hong Kong continue leading to violence between police and protesters, Northwestern alumnus and Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey took to Twitter on Friday to weigh in. The international backlash that’s ensued as a result of his post has propelled the Rockets and the league into a frenzy.

Morey (McCormick ’96), whose original and now-deleted tweet contained an image reading “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong,” apologized Monday evening for his post. This comes after several Chinese businesses had announced they were suspending ties with the team. The Chinese Basketball Association, headed by former Rockets center Yao Ming, also announced Sunday it was suspending cooperation with the team.

“I did not intend my tweet to cause any offense to Rockets fans and friends of mine in China,” Morey posted on Twitter. “I was merely voicing one thought, based on one interpretation, of one complicated event. I have had a lot of opportunity since that tweet to hear and consider other perspectives.”

In response to the growing fallout overseas, other team and league officials attempted to distance themselves from Morey’s tweet. Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta tweeted that Morey “does NOT” speak for the Rockets and that team is “NOT” a political organization. Superstar James Harden apologized saying “We love China. We love playing there.” The Association also released a statement in an attempt to minimize the damage.

“We recognize the views expressed by Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey have deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China, which is regrettable,” the NBA statement read. “We have great respect for the history and culture of China and hope that sports and the NBA can be used as a unifying force to bridge cultural divides and bring people together.”

But those reactions set off their own firestorm as many lept to the defense of Morey, who was named 2018 NBA Executive of the Year and regarded as one of the most innovative executives in the sport. Some argued the NBA’s response ran contrary to the league’s longstanding reputation of supporting its players and personnel in commenting on social issues and said the league was caving to business interests abroad.

More than 500 million Chinese viewers watched at least one NBA game last season, according to The New York Times, and the league’s business in China is a multi-billion dollar venture.

On both sides of the aisle, politicians and presidential candidates including U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), tech executive Andrew Yang and former congressman Beto O’Rourke criticized the league.

“The only thing the NBA should be apologizing for is their blatant prioritization of profits over human rights,” O’Rourke posted on Twitter. “What an embarrassment.”

While some journalists speculated on Twitter that Morey’s job could be in danger, reports as of Sunday evening suggested the Northwestern alumnus wouldn’t face disciplinary action. League commissioner Adam Silver also weighed in Monday, defending both Morey and the NBA’s response.

“I think as a values-based organization that I want to make it clear … that Daryl Morey is supported in terms of his ability to exercise his freedom of expression,” Silver said. “These are complex issues they don’t lend themselves easily to social media. I can’t ultimately run the NBA based on trying to satisfy everyone on Twitter.”

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