Behind the “NBA vs. Hong Kong” Twitter Saga

Matthew Dennis
October 30, 2019

As a sports fan, I love mostly everything about the NBA. Who wouldn’t? It’s highly entertaining, always filled with drama, and it’s a league that cares and gives back to the community.

That is, until it affects their wallets.

By now, you’ve probably heard about what’s going on in Hong Kong. If not, the Washington Post wrote a very informative article that I highly recommend reading. The basic explanation would be that citizens of Hong Kong are currently protesting against their government in order to keep a bill from passing that would jeopardize basic human rights in the city.

Now what does this have to do with the NBA and social media? 

Well, according to an article written in Forbes, the NBA’s relationship with China is worth more than 4 billion dollars. That’s why, when the Houston Rockets General Manager, Daryl Morey tweeted out in support of the Hong Kong protests, it caused quite a stir.

In the coming days, this tweet could have potentially cost the NBA millions by way of Chinese leagues, streaming services, sponsors, and partners cutting ties with the Rockets and the NBA. 

The NBA was then faced with a decision to make: support Daryl’s opinion and potentially risk losing a lot of money for the league or backtrack and try to salvage the very profitable relationship with China. They choose the latter.

As soon as money got involved, the NBA stepped in with an official statement that referenced the tweet as “regrettable:”


Regrettable? Citizens of Hong Kong didn’t think so, as hundreds of protesters showed overwhelming support for Darly Morey on social media and in the streets of their protest.  

The public and media’s negative reaction form their first statement caused NBA commissioner Adam Silver to step in and release a new statement that said, “The NBA will not put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees and team owners say or will not say.”

This is likely what should have been said in the first place, but the risk of losing a lot of money can make people do a lot of dumb things!

Take LeBron James for example. When the face of league for almost the past two decades was asked about Daryl Morey’s tweet he said:

I just think that when you’re misinformed or you’re not educated about something – and I’m just talking about the tweet itself – you never know the ramifications that can happen. We all see what that did – not only for our league but for all of us in America, for people in China as well.

This statement did not sit well with the protestors in China. In fact, it resulted in Lebron’s jersey being burned in the streets:


LeBron saw this reaction from the public and backtracked as well:


You might be thinking to yourself, “LeBron is just an NBA player, he gets paid by the Lakers, why would this affect him?” LeBron is no longer a basketball player, he’s a brand and just like the NBA, he sells merchandise in China. Any disruption in those deals would cause a massive financial hit for the 4-time MVP. 

So league executives and the players won’t stand up in support of Hong Kong. How about the fans? 

Recently, we have seen support for Hong Kong in stands of NBA games by fans. Take a look at this video of the Clippers Jumbotron during their game. 


A child tricks a cameraman to turn to him while he’s holding a Clippers t-shirt. Once he’s on the Jumbotron, he flips the shirt and shows another shirt that says “Fight For Freedom Stand With Hong Kong.” Notice how flustered the cameraman becomes once he figures out what the t-shirt says. This is clearly something that the NBA does not want broadcasted.

We even saw this at a Sixers game!


Fans were escorted out of the game of chanting “Free Hong Kong.” I’ve heard people chanting way worse things than that at Sixers games, with zero repercussions. Clearly the NBA wants to bury this as much as possible.

Finally, you know things are bad when Shaq is the voice of reason.


Thanks, Shaq.