On Monday, the Houston Rockets of the NBA returned to Chinese screens for the first time in over a year, when Tencent led the team’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers. The game’s broadcast indicates that China has revived its relationship with the franchise now that the team no longer employs former general manager Daryl Morey.
“I am crying,” one user wrote on Chinese Weibo microblogging site Monday. “Finally, I don’t need to jump the firewall to watch a [Rockets] basketball match. “
But even as Rockets fans rejoiced, a new NBA team found itself on China’s blacklist: the Philadelphia 76ers, Morey’s new employer. Tencent hasn’t shown a single 76ers game on its platform since the start of the new NBA season last month.
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In October 2019, Morey, then the Rocket’s GM, tweeted in support of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. “Fight for freedom, support Hong Kong,” Morey posted on October 6, 2019, repeating a popular protest slogan in Hong Kong, in a tweet he later deleted.
The Chinese government, with the Chinese fans, sponsors and advertising partners immediately condemned Morey’s tweet, seeing his comment as a challenge to China territorial sovereignty, a “third rail” problem. Within days, Tencent, the Chinese social media and tech giant that owns the NBA’s streaming rights in China, and CCTV, a state broadcaster that broadcasts games on Chinese television, announced that they would cut the Rockets games off their platforms.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver estimated the NBA may have lost a total of $ 400 million combined sponsorship and streaming revenue due to the fallout from Morey’s tweet. At the time, Silver resisted calls to fire Morey and defended his right to say what he thought.
Silver said his defense of Morey may have been the reason CCTV pulled all NBA games last regular season. (Tencent continued to broadcast the games, with the exception of the Houston Rockets contests.) At the end of the 2019-20 season, however, China reported that the icy relationship was starting to melt away. CCTV, the state broadcaster, showed the final games of the NBA Finals.
“We only got 12 hours’ notice that we were going back to CCTV, without much explanation,” Money says Fortune in October 2020. “At the end of the day, there was a feeling out of China that we weren’t going to change. We are who we are. We export American values. “
But any team affiliated with Morey, it seems, remains on the blacklist in China.
At the end of last year, some Chinese fans applauded as Morey resigned from the Rockets, believing the NBA was somehow punishing him for his comments regarding Hong Kong. But weeks after leaving the Rockets, Morey signed a five-year contract to be the general manager of another NBA team, the Philadelphia 76ers.
Now, after Morey’s signing, Tencent has refused to release 76ers games. CCTV, meanwhile, did not broadcast all NBA games this season.
Morey recently explained that while the fallout from his tweet has been intense, he stands behind his comments and appreciates that he can still hold a position in the NBA.
“Over the past 12 months I’ve had times where I thought I would never work in the NBA again, for reasons I was ready to go down,” Morey said ESPN in December 2020. “You don’t want the second most powerful government in the world to blame you, if you can avoid it. In this case, I could not.
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