Beijing, China – National Basketball League (NBA) merchandise was taken out of stores and all of the league’s official Chinese partners suspended ties to the organization after the Houston Rocket’s general manager tweeted support for protesters in Hong Kong.
“Fight for freedom, Stand with Hong Kong,” Daryl Morey tweeted on Oct. 4. The tweet has since been deleted, the Sacramento Bee reported.
Morey’s tweet referred to the ongoing protests in Hong Kong that have to do with an amendment that would allow extradition of suspects to mainland China.
The Rocket’s general manager later apologized for his tweet, but NBA Commissioner Adam Silver angered Chinese authorities when he said the league supported Morey’s right to freedom of expression, according to Reuters.
The timing of the controversy, just as the NBA began a special international promotion with preseason exhibition games livestreamed from China, caused chaos for sponsors.
Tencent, the Chinese company that has the exclusive rights to stream the NBA in China, initially said it would not show the games, CNN reported.
The NBA still held an exhibition game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets in China on Thursday, according to Reuters.
However, all of the promotional events leading up to the game were all cancelled.
On Monday, Tencent quietly resumed the online NBA broadcasts, CNN reported.
Managers at five Nike stores in Beijing and Shanghai told Reuters that management sent them a memo stating all Rockets merchandise had to be taken down.
Numerous stores in Shenzhen and Chengdu also removed all Rockets merchandise from their displays and shelves, but thus far, other NBA teams were still on display.
“Other stuff, there hasn’t been any impact, and no one has said we need to withdraw it,” a store manager told Reuters. “If they say that all NBA stuff has to be withdrawn then our store will go bankrupt.”
Rockets products had even been removed from the NBA Playzone entertainment centers in Shanghai and Beijing.
The NBA is wildly popular in China, and the league’s business with that country is estimated to be more than $4 billion annually, CNN reported.
China is also Nike’s top source of revenue growth, according to Reuters.
Before now, the NBA had avoided choosing sides between Hong Kong and China.
Now the league is struggling to maintain its lucrative business ties with China, the Sacramento Bee reported.
President Donald Trump took some shots at Golden State Warriors’ Coach Steve Kerr and San Antonio Spurs’ Coach Gregg Popovich on Twitter for their lack of response to the NBA’s situation with China.
Both Kerr and Popovich have been frequent critics of President Trump.
President Trump also called out Popovich for “pandering” to China.
“I watched this guy Steve Kerr. He was like a little boy who was so scared to be answering the question,” the President told reporters, according to USA Today.
“He couldn’t answer the question,” President Trump said. “He was shaking like, ‘Oh, I don’t know.’ He didn’t know how to answer the question. Yet, he’ll talk about the United States very badly. I watched Popovich do sort of the same thing. But he didn’t look quite as scared, actually.”