(Reuters) – U.S. lawmakers joined a chorus of criticism of the National Basketball Association (NBA) after the organization distanced itself from a tweet by the manager of the Houston Rockets in support of the Hong Kong protests for democracy.
Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey apologized on Monday for the tweet, which was quickly deleted over the weekend, but not before facing a swift backlash from Chinese fans and business partners of the NBA team.
“As a lifelong @HoustonRockets fan, I was proud to see @dmorey call out the Chinese Communist Party’s repressive treatment of protesters in Hong Kong,” Texas Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican, said on Twitter. “Now, in pursuit of $$, the @NBA is shamefully retreating.”
New Jersey Congressman Tom Malinowski said China was using its economic power to censor speech by Americans in the United States.
“And the #NBA, which (correctly) has no problem with players/employees criticizing our govt, is now apologizing for criticizing the Chinese gov’t. This is shameful and cannot stand,” Malinowski, a Democrat, said in a tweet.
The NBA said it recognized Morey’s views have “deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China, which is regrettable.”
“We have 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,” it said.
Josh Hawley, a Republican senator from Missouri, made references to allegations of human rights abuses in China, including the repression of Uighur Muslims.
“Chinese govt has a million people locked in concentration camps & is trying to brutally repress Hong Kong demonstrators – and NBA wants to “bridge cultural divides”? Cultural divides?”
The Rockets, playing games in Japan, could not immediately be reached for comment.
(Reporting by Lincoln Feast in Sydney; Editing by Gerry Doyle)