Lakers' NBA Cares event in Shanghai canceled amid China rift

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver speaks at a news conference before an NBA preseason basketball game between the Houston Rockets and the Toronto Raptors Tuesday Oct. 8 2019 in Saitama near Tokyo

China's Communist Party-backed Global Times fired back in a tweet saying "free speech is never free". That has come in a variety of forms from Golden State coach Steve Kerr taking shots at President Donald Trump and Lebron James campaigning for Hillary Clinton to Enes Kanter's aggressive criticism of his home country's (Turkey) president or even how Kyrie Irving believes the earth is flat.

The NBA has been steeped in controversy after Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey accidentally created an worldwide conflict when he tweeted a picture showing solidarity for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

China, however, was pissed.

Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta initially issued a harsh rebuke to Morey over his tweet, though later clarified to ESPN that there was no ongoing dispute between him and his team's general manager. However, China's state-run CCTV has canceled plans to air the games.

The Lakers and Nets are scheduled to play two exhibition games this week but banners in Shanghai promoting the game are being taken down, so who knows?

It's a decision that stems from a recent tweet by Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey. "They were concerned about the increasing level of Chinese influence in the Hong Kong government". China has accused the West of stirring up anti-Beijing sentiment in Hong Kong.

China's obviously sending a message to the league that any further pro-HK statements - by anyone - will risk a total rupture of the NBA's relationship with China.

Police in Jilin province announced on Monday that an overzealous Rockets supporter was arrested after he posted a photo of himself burning China's flag.

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"Tweeting something offensive to the Chinese people before a series of National Basketball Association promotional activities in China only shows a lack of intellect, respect, and responsibility", it said.

A Wednesday afternoon press conference with both teams was indefinitely delayed, organisers said. "We simply could not operate that way". He also set up a controversial basketball game in the Hermit Kingdom with former NBA players in 2014.

To quote Cleo McDowell in Coming to America, "This is America, Jack".

"If Silver thinks endorsing the indiscriminate violence the radical Hong Kong protesters are resorting supporting freedom of expression, then he should think again", it said.

In the wake of a string of controversies involving companies refusing to let their employees criticize the Chinese government, many people and companies have started taking sides.

Wachs, who lived and worked in Hong Kong in his 20s, said protesters there "are seeking to preserve their democracy". Not for a million or a billion or a trillion dollars.

The NBA's defiance shows the league is willing to pay the price for upholding what Silver called "values of equality, respect and freedom of expression" in its most promising market. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.

Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian.

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