Smartphone maker Vivo, broadcaster CCTV and internet giant Tencent said today they are suspending all cooperation with the National Basketball Association, becoming the latest Chinese firms to cut ties with the league after a tweet from a Houston Rockets executive supporting Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters offended many in the world’s most populous nation.
Vivo, which is a key sponsor for the upcoming exhibition games to be played in Shanghai and Shenzhen this week, said in a statement on Chinese social networking platform Weibo that it was “dissatisfied” with Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey’s views on Hong Kong.
In a tweet over the weekend, Morey voiced his support for protesters in Hong Kong. He said, “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong.” Even as he quickly moved to delete the tweet and the NBA attempted to smooth the dialog, Morey’s views had offended many in China, which maintains a low tolerance for criticism of its political system.
In a statement, the NBA said it was “regrettable” that Morey’s views had “deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China.” This stance from the NBA, which has grown accustomed to seeing its star players speak freely and criticize anyone they wish, including the U.S. President Donald Trump, in turn, offended many.
Earlier today, Chinese state broadcaster CCTV said it was also suspending broadcasts of the league’s games to be played in China.
In a statement today, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver tried to steer the league from the controversy. “It is inevitable that people around the world — including from America and China — will have different viewpoints over different issues. It is not the role of the NBA to adjudicate those differences. However, the NBA will not put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees and team owners say or will not say on these issues. We simply could not operate that way,” he said.
China remains a key strategic nation for the NBA. According to official figures, more than 600 million viewers in China watched NBA content during the 2017-18 season. The league’s five-year partnership with Chinese tech giant Tencent for digital streaming rights of matches is reported to be worth $1.5 billion.
In a statement issued today, Tencent Sports said it was “temporarily suspending” the pre-season broadcast arrangements. Over the weekend, Chinese sportswear maker Li-Ning Company and Shanghai Pudong Development Bank suspended their cooperation with the Houston Rockets.
Users on Twitter reported today that e-commerce giants Alibaba and JD.com appear to have taken a stand, too. Searches in Chinese for “Houston Rockets” and “Rockets,” which previously surfaced NBA franchise products, now return no results.
In an unrelated event, several Chinese services banned an episode of the satirical animated show “South Park” last week. In the episode, titled “Band in China,” the show criticized China’s policies on free speech and U.S. corporates’ efforts to bow down to the world’s most populous nation to avoid any repercussions.
In a statement on Monday, South Park creators issued a mock apology. They said, “like the NBA, we welcome the Chinese censors into our homes and into our hearts. We too love money more than freedom. Long live the Great Communist Party of China! May this autumn’s sorghum harvest be bountiful! We good now China?”