Democratic presidential hopeful Andrew Yang ripped the Chinese government and called on the National Basketball Association to “stand up” for the free speech rights of its employees in a statement to The Hill on Thursday.
Yang, a tech entrepreneur whose parents are from Taiwan, said it was “ridiculous” for the Chinese government to block the broadcast of NBA games after Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey expressed support for pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong.
“The Chinese government banning NBA games because of a deleted tweet by a franchise employee is ridiculous,” Yang said. “The main losers would be the Chinese fans who would find another way to watch the games. The NBA should feel confident in its position and stand up for the free speech rights of its employees.”
The incident has raised questions about whether U.S. corporations are turning a blind eye to human rights abuses and censorship in an effort to appease the Chinese government and ensure their business is not disrupted in the world’s most populous country.
The NBA initially released a statement describing Morey’s comments as “regrettable” and saying he had “deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China,” before NBA Commissioner Adam Silver weighed in again Tuesday saying the league would not apologize for the tweet and that it would back freedom of expressions by its players and executives.
Since then, however, reports have circulated of security officials confiscating signs from fans criticizing China or offering support for Hong Kong at two NBA arenas during pre-season games.
The NBA has come under fierce criticism from U.S. lawmakers in both parties over not taking on China, but has also been taken to task by Beijing.
Pre-season games between the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets being played in Shanghai were taken off Chinese state television, and banner advertisements highlighting the game were stripped down before players took the court.