Adam Silver, NBA Commissioner, talks to the media during the NBA All Star Commissioner's Media Availability as part of the 2019 NBA All-Star Weekend at Spectrum Center on February 16, 2019 in Charlotte, North Carolina, the US. (Photo: VCG)
More than a dozen Chinese celebrities announced they would not attend the National Basketball Association (NBA) fan night activity scheduled for Wednesday after NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said that his organization backs Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey's right to make comments over Hong Kong issues.
The nine-member Chinese pop band Unine, actors Li Yifeng and Bai Jingting, singer Fan Chengcheng, who is actress Fan Bingbing's younger brother, and three other Chinese celebrities issued the announcement early Tuesday morning.
"We will always adhere to the one-China principle, resolutely safeguard China's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and oppose any speech or act that attempts to split the country in any form," celebrities wrote in their declaration.
The announcements came after Morey re-tweeted a message on Saturday expressing solidarity with Hong Kong rioters. The tweet has been deleted as of press time.
The tweet has sparked a wave of online criticism in China and cost the franchise TV exposure and sponsorship in the lucrative Chinese market where the Rockets had long been extremely popular after they signed Chinese basketball star Yao Ming in 2002.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said Monday in Tokyo ahead of a preseason game between the Rockets and Toronto Raptors in Saitama that, his organization backs embattled Morey's right to speak his mind on the Hong Kong issue, Japanese media outlet Kyodo News reported.
"There is no doubt, the economic impact is already clear," Silver was quoted by the media as saying. "… I have read some of the media suggesting that we are not supporting Daryl Morey, but in fact we have."
"… Daryl Morey is supported in terms of his ability to exercise his freedom of expression."
Silver's comments have irritated Chinese netizens including many basketball fans. Many have criticized the NBA for double standards and called for a boycott of the NBA.
"Ok fine, you and your NBA get out of China with your so-called freedom of speech. We will always adhere to our belief that national sovereignty is a bottom line for all Chinese," wrote a netizen on China's twitter-liked Sina Weibo, whose sentiments were echoed by many others.
"We, at first, are Chinese people, then basketball fans," another netizen said.
Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was banned for life from the NBA and fined $2.5 million in 2014 following an investigation into alleged racist comments he made over the phone to his ex-girlfriend, according to foreign media reports.
Joe Tsai, the governor of the Brooklyn Nets of the NBA and executive vice chairman of China's Alibaba Group took different views than Silver on Morey's act.
Tsai published an open letter to all NBA fans on Monday on Facebook before Silver's comments, saying that people who voice support for "a separatist movement in a Chinese territory is one of those third-rail issues" that should not be treated as a freedom of speech issue.
"Chinese citizens stand united when it comes to the territorial integrity of China and the country's sovereignty over her homeland. This issue is non-negotiable," Tsai said.
"…the hurt that this incident has caused will take a long time to repair," Tsai noted.
According to reports, a game in Shanghai between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Brooklyn Nets has not yet been cancelled. The game will be held as scheduled and the Lakers will arrive in Shanghai on Tuesday, reports said.