NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said Thursday he hoped the league can “bring people together” hours after Vice President Mike Pence blasted the NBA as acting as a “wholly-owned subsidiary of China.”
Pence, during a speech Thursday afternoon, accused the NBA of siding with China in “silencing free speech” nearly three weeks after a tweet from Houston Rockets’ general manager Daryl Morey supported pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. The tweet started a firestorm that engulfed the league as it prepared to open the 2019-20 season with a preseason trip to China.
“We’re going to double down on engaging with the people of China and India and throughout Africa, throughout the world regardless of their governments,” said Silver, who appeared on TNT’s broadcast of “Inside the NBA.” “Certainly [if] we get to a point where the U.S. government tells us we shouldn’t be doing business in certain territories or countries, we won’t.”
He added: “But I’m a firm believer that through sports, independent of governments, you bring people together, they acknowledge that commonality they create empathy. Through personal relationships, there’s no substitute. This league for decades has been on the ground in China, spreading the game, teaching the values of this game, and, again, I think those are core American values and we’ve never wavered.”
Silver said he was unclear about the overall financial impact the controversy has had on the NBA. He noted Chinese state television suspended broadcasts while the country’s streaming service, Tencent. has put some games back on the platform. He tried to make the larger point that the current issues between the U.S. and China have “absolutely nothing to do with the NBA.”
Silver has supported Morey’s right to speak freely but has stated that he regretted the outcome of the tweet.
He claimed last week that the Chinese government urged him to remove Morey from his position as the team’s general manager and boasted that he resisted the request. Chinese officials took offense Silver’s allegation and denied making the demand.
State media vowed “retribution” for Silver’s alleged lies.