SHANGHAI, CHINA - Chinese state media slammed the NBA for an "about-face" Tuesday after the body said it would not apologize for a tweet by the Houston Rockets General Manager supporting pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
The US league has drawn fire for from Chinese broadcasters, sponsors and social media after Daryl Morey tweeted a message Friday saying, "Fight for freedom. Stand with Hong Kong."
After the NBA called Morey's tweet "inappropriate" in a statement on Chinese social media platform Weibo, league commissioner Adam Silver insisted at a press conference in Tokyo on Tuesday that the league would not apologize and would "support freedom of expression".
In an editorial, the state-run China Daily accused the NBA of a U-turn and said Silver's remarks showed the league's earlier "honey-mouthed" statements had been "nothing but an attempt to prevent the hemorrhaging of profits made in China."
It added "Silver's about face, which will definitely give a shot to the arms of the rioters in Hong Kong, shows his organization is willing to be another handy tool for US interference in the special administrative region."
Beijing has often accused foreign forces of fueling the unrest in Hong Kong.
An editorial in the nationalistic Global Times also blasted the NBA for bowing to "political correctness in the US", saying there was now "little room for reconciliation" as the issue had escalated into a clash of values between China and the US.
Silver "will only offend more people no matter what he tries to say," the tabloid said.
The NBA commissioner said he hoped to discuss the situation with Chinese officials in Shanghai, where the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers are set to play an exhibition game on Thursday.
But a day after the NBA cancelled a Nets publicity event in the city, NBA representatives told AFP that it had scrapped a similar public event involving the Lakers on Wednesday.
Separate training sessions by the teams on Wednesday that media had been invited to were also abruptly declared closed.
Crews at Shanghai's Mercedes-Benz arena, where the Nets and Lakers were to tip-off, were seen Wednesday morning removing the logos of the NBA, Nets, Lakers, and corporate sponsors from lampposts and walls in the area.
Speculation has grown in the US that the games themselves, another is to be held in the southern city of Shenzhen on Saturday, could be cancelled.
The NBA has built a lucrative Chinese fan base in recent years thanks in part to the popularity of former Rockets center Yao Ming.
But after Morey's tweet, state broadcaster CCTV and Chinese internet company Tencent both suspended broadcasts of Rockets games and two preseason NBA games in China.
The Chinese Basketball Association, which Yao now heads, has also cut off ties with the Rockets.