China on Friday denied NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s claims that they requested Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey be fired over his pro-Hong Kong tweet.
Silver was speaking at a Time Magazine event Thursday when he made the revelation that the Chinese government asked him to fire Morey over the tweet which read: “Fight for freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.”
“We made clear that we were being asked to fire him, by the Chinese government, by the parties we dealt with, government and business,” he said. “We said there’s no chance that’s happening. There’s no chance we’ll even discipline him.
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“These American values — we are an American business — travel with us wherever we go. And one of those values is free expression. We wanted to make sure that everyone understood we were supporting free expression.”
But on Friday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said no request was made.
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“We especially went to the relevant departments to check on this claim,” Geng told reporters in Beijing, according to Reuters. “The Chinese government has never made this kind of request.”
Morey later deleted the tweet from his personal account, but not before spurring a rebuke from the NBA and inciting a backlash in China. Authorities in the Communist country canceled publicity events and news conferences last week, while state TV refused to broadcast two exhibition games between the Brooklyn Nets and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Lakers superstar LeBron James, considered one of the more outspoken athletes on social justice issues in a league that prides itself on being one of the most progressive in sports, was skewered this week after he criticized Morey’s tweet as “either misinformed or not really educated on the situation.” Some Hong Kong protesters burned and stomped on James jerseys during a rally.
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In a closed-door meeting in Shanghai, James reportedly asked Silver what he was going to do about the Morey tweet and whether discipline was going to be handed down. Silver disagreed that any punishment was warranted because no player or coach is penalized for criticizing President Trump.