Daryl Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets, is facing backlash in China after he tweeted support for ongoing protests in Hong Kong.
What initially began as protests against proposed legislation that would have allowed for the extradition of Hong Kong residents to mainland China to face trial has since ballooned into a fight against Chinese encroachment on the semiautonomous territory.
In the since-deleted tweet, Morey posted the symbol of Stand With Hong Kong, an activist group which has been behind calls for foreign government intervention in Hong Kong.
The tweet prompted backlash from Chinese social media users, who targeted his account with angry messages and calls for his firing. According to the Washington Post, some users began responding to his tweet with "NMSL," an acronym used on Chinese social media to mean "your mother is dead."
The Chinese Basketball Association (CBA), which represents China in the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) announced on Sunday that it was halting cooperation with the Rockets in response to the tweet. The current president of CBA is Yao Ming, the former NBA All-Star who played for the Houston Rockets from 2002 to 2011.
Several of the team's sponsors and partners in China, including state broadcaster China Central Television and live streaming platform Tencent Sports announced on Sunday that they would no longer broadcast Rockets games. Tencent Holdings represents the NBA's largest digital partner outside the US and struck a deal to stream games and other league programming in China reported to be worth $1.5 billion.
Tilman Fertitta, the owner of the Rockets, addressed the controversy on Friday night, and said Morey's statement does not reflect the views of the team or its shareholders.
"Listen....@dmorey does NOT speak for the @HoustonRockets," he wrote. He later defended Morey on ESPN, stating that he had "best general manager in the league" and clarified that Rockets have "no political position."
On Sunday, the Chinese Consulate in Houston said in a statement it was "deeply shocked" by Morey's "erroneous comments on Hong Kong."
"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."
On Sunday evening, the NBA issued a response to the controversy, stating that Morey's views "have deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China," and called the tweet "regrettable."
Morey on Sunday responded to the firestorm, clarifying that his views did not reflect those of the NBA or the Rockets.
"I did not intend my tweet to cause any offense to Rockets fans and friends of mine in China. I was merely voicing one thought, based on one interpretation, of one complicated event," he wrote.
According to the New York Times, basketball is China's most popular sport, with a market which represents hundreds of millions of fans. According to CNBC, more than 640 million people watched the 2017 - 2018 NBA season.
Hong Kong has proven to be a sensitive topic for Chinese consumers, particularly as protests have rocked the city over the last few months. In August, luxury fashion labels Versace and Coach stoked fury in China for their designs which referenced Hong Kong as separate from China.