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Tue. 9:07 a.m.: NBA Commissioner says league will support freedom of speech

A man walks past statues of NBA players Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors, left, and Lebron James of the Los Angeles Lakers holding Chinese flags in the entrance of an NBA merchandise store today in Beijing. Chinese state broadcaster CCTV announced today that it will no longer air two NBA preseason games set to be played in the country. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

TOKYO (AP) — NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said the league is not apologizing for Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s since-deleted tweet showing support for anti-government protesters in Hong Kong, even after China’s state broadcaster canceled plans to show a pair of preseason games in that country later this week.

Silver, speaking today at a news conference in Tokyo before a preseason game between the Rockets and NBA champion Toronto Raptors, went as far as to say that he and the league are “apologetic” that so many Chinese officials and fans were upset by Morey’s tweet and comments that followed — but insisted that Morey has the right to freedom of expression.

“Daryl Morey, as general manager of the Houston Rockets, enjoys that right as one of our employees,” Silver said. “What I also tried to suggest is that I understand there are consequences from his freedom of speech and we will have to live with those consequences.”

Among those consequences: CCTV said it would not show the games between the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets, who will play Thursday in Shanghai and Saturday in Shenzhen. Basketball is wildly popular in China and those two teams — largely because of LeBron James starring for the Lakers and Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba’s co-founder Joe Tsai now owning the Nets — would have almost certainly been a huge television draw.

“We’re strongly dissatisfied and oppose Adam Silver’s claim to support Morey’s right to freedom of expression,” CCTV said in a statement. “We believe that any remarks that challenge national sovereignty and social stability are not within the scope of freedom of speech.”

The broadcaster is also reviewing all its cooperation and exchanges involving the NBA, said the statement posted to CCTV Sports’ official social media account.

Silver is going to Shanghai on Wednesday and said he hopes to meet with officials and some of the league’s business partners there in an effort to find some sort of common ground. He said he hopes Chinese officials and fans look at the totality of the impact of the three-decade-plus relationship between the league and their country, and urged them to see his response while acknowledging there are political differences between the countries.

“I’m sympathetic to our interests here and our partners that are upset,” Silver said. “I don’t think it’s inconsistent on one hand to be sympathetic to them and at the same time stand by our principles.”

Silver said the NBA did not expect CCTV to cancel plans to show the Lakers-Nets games. “But if those are the consequences of us adhering to our values, I still feel it’s very, very important to adhere to those values,” Silver said.

This rift between China and the NBA started late last week when Morey tweeted a now-deleted image that read “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong,” in reference to months of pro-democracy demonstrations in the semiautonomous Chinese territory that has been mired in escalating violence between protesters and law enforcement.

Efforts were quickly made to defuse the impact; Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta said Morey does not speak for the Rockets, and Morey returned to Twitter on Monday in an effort to clarify his meaning. But damage was clearly done: at least one Chinese sporting goods company said it was no longer cooperating with the Rockets, NBA streaming partner Tencent — which has a $1.5 billion contract with the league over the next five seasons — said it would not show Rockets games and a sports news website in China said it was no longer covering the team.

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