Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) on Monday sent a letter to the NBA calling for the league to cancel exhibition games scheduled in China amid controversy surrounding the Houston Rockets’ general manager voicing support for protesters in Hong Kong.
“The NBA and its owners should reverse course immediately, apologize to Mr. Morey, and cancel all exhibition games in China pending a peaceful resolution to the crisis in Hong Kong,” Hawley said in a letter sent to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and the owners of all 30 NBA teams.
“Remember that some things are more important than money,” he continued. “Remember your responsibility. You may not think of your League as an American undertaking, but whatever you think, what you say and do represents America to the world. And for an American organization to help the most brutal of regimes silence dissent in pursuit of profit is appalling.”
Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey in a tweet on Friday voiced support for the tens of thousands of pro-democracy protestors who have flooded the streets of Hong Kong for months, writing “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.”
Although the tweet was quickly deleted and Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta released a statement shortly after saying that Morey did not speak for the franchise, the Chinese Basketball Association and several TV providers suspended ties with the Rockets on Sunday.
China also canceled an exhibition game between the NBA G League teams the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, which is affiliated with the Rockets, and the Texas Legends.
The Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets are scheduled to play two exhibition games in China this week, one in Shanghai and one in Shenzhen.
There has been no indication so far that those games would be canceled, and Chinese organizations have largely directed their ire against the Rockets, not the whole NBA.
The NBA issued a statement Sunday recognizing that Morey’s comments “have deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China, which is regrettable” and that it has “great respect for the history and culture of China and hope that sports and the NBA can be used as a unifying force to bridge cultural divides and bring people together.”
The league’s statement immediately drew bipartisan backlash from lawmakers, including Hawley, who have accused it of putting profit over human rights and free expression of its employees.