Houston Rockets GM Morey deletes tweet about Hong Kong

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General Manager Daryl Morey of the Houston Rockets.

Bill Baptist | National Basketball Association | Getty Images

Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey apologized on Twitter over a now-deleted tweet that spoke in support of the Hong Kong protests, after his remarks were attacked by the Chinese Consulate-General in Houston and the Chinese Basketball Association.

Morey’s apology underscores the difficulty American companies face when they want to do business within China’s massive economy, but can’t run the risk of saying anything that will upset the country’s autocratic government.

“I have always appreciated the significant support our Chinese fans and sponsors have provided and I would hope that those who are upset will know that offending or misunderstanding them was not my intention,” Morey tweeted on Sunday.

“I did not intend my tweet to cause any offense to Rockets fans and friends of mine in China,” he added.

According to the Associated Press, Morey’s original, deleted tweet read: “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.”

His apology had drawn more than a thousand replies as of 10 a.m. Monday Hong Kong time (10 p.m. Sunday ET), most of them urging him not to apologize.

Thousands of Hong Kongers have protested for four months over anxiety about Beijing’s creeping influence over the city, which the British handed over to China in 1997. Those protests have become increasingly violent.

The National Basketball Association is now China’s most popular sports league and has formed partnerships with some of the country’s biggest tech companies. It also opened NBA retail stores there.

China consulate to Rockets: ‘Correct the error’

A Chinese Consulate-General spokesperson in Houston attacked the tweet and “urged” the Rockets to “correct the error.”

“We are deeply shocked by the erroneous comments on Hong Kong made by Mr. Daryl Morey, general manager of the Houston Rockets. We have lodged representations and expressed strong dissatisfaction with the Houston Rockets, and urged the latter to correct the error and take immediate concrete measures to eliminate the adverse impact,” the spokesperson said on Sunday.

The Consulate-General in Houston is an extension of the Chinese diplomatic mission in the United States.

Morey’s initial tweet also drew condemnation from the Chinese Basketball Association. “The Chinese basketball association has expressed strong opposition to the remarks, and will suspend communication and cooperation with the Houston Rockets club,” the organization said on Sunday on its Twitter-like Weibo account, per a CNBC translation.

The current chairman of the Chinese Basketball Association is Yao Ming, who used to play for the Houston Rockets.

Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta publicly rebuked Morey for the tweet. He said on Twitter that Morey “does NOT speak for the @HoustonRockets” and that they are “NOT a political organization.”

The NBA said the following in a statement:

We recognize that the views expressed by Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey have offended so many of our friends and fans in China, which is regrettable. While Daryl has made it clear that his tweet does not represent the Rockets or the NBA, the values of the league support individuals’ educating themselves and sharing their views on matters important to them. 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.

The Associated Press and CNBC’s Grace Shao contributed to this report.

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