TOKYO: Chinese broadcaster CCTV has said it will stop showing Houston Rockets games as the backlash in China grows over a tweet backing Hong Kong protests.
CCTV's sports channel said in a statement on its Weibo channel on Sunday (Oct 6) night that it was "strongly opposed" to the "improper remarks" posted by the team's general manager Daryl Morey.
Sponsors including sportswear brand Li Ning and the Shanghai Pudong Development Bank announced on Sunday they would stop cooperation with the team.
"We express our outrage and strongly condemn Houston rockets general manager Daryl Morey's wrong remarks on his personal social media platform," said Li Ning in a statement.
"The Li Ning company firmly opposes and resists all actions that harm national interests."
Rockets sponsor SPD Credit Card Center said in a statement that it will suspend all marketing and publicity and that "the sovereignty of the motherland can not be challenged".
It called for the Rockets to carry out a thorough investigation.
Earlier on Sunday, the Chinese Basketball Association (NBA) said it would sever all ties with the Rockets.
"General manager of Houston Rockets club Daryl Morey made incorrect comments about Hong Kong," the CBA said on its official social media page.
"The Chinese Basketball Association is strongly opposed to this and will suspend communication and cooperation with the club."
Hong Kong has been battered by four months of increasingly violent protests.
The rallies were ignited by a now-scrapped plan to allow extraditions to mainland China, fuelling fears of an erosion of liberties in Hong Kong under the 50-year "one country, two systems" model China agreed before the 1997 handover from Britain.
The Rockets have enjoyed a huge following in China since the club drafted Chinese star Yao Ming in 2002.
But fans on social media in China savaged Morey's comments, with some urging he be fired.
The general manager of the Houston Rockets on Monday said the tweet backing Hong Kong protests that caused a major backlash was not meant to offend the NBA team's massive Chinese fanbase.
The Rockets have been in damage control mode since Daryl Morey posted a tweet Friday featuring the message "Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong" that was subsequently deleted.
"I did not intend my tweet to cause any offense to Rockets fans and friends of mine in China," Morey said in a tweet on Monday morning in Tokyo, where the Rockets are playing several matches this week.
"I was merely voicing one thought, based on one interpretation, of one complicated event. I have had a lot of opportunity since that tweet to hear and consider other perspectives," he added.
"I have always appreciated the significant support our Chinese fans and sponsors have provided and I would hope that those who are upset will know that offending or misunderstanding them was not my intention," Morey said.
He also reiterated that his tweets "in no way represent the Rockets or the NBA."
In its own statement on Sunday, the NBA said: "We recognize that the views expressed by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey have deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China, which is regrettable.
"While Daryl has made it clear that his tweet does not represent the Rockets or the NBA, the values of the league support individuals' educating themselves and sharing their views on matters important to them."
The statement added that the association had "great respect" for the history and culture of China and that it hoped that sports and the NBA can be used as a "unifying force".
The Rockets have already tried to distance themselves from the controversy, with owner Tilman Fertitta on Friday writing on Twitter that Morey "does NOT speak for the @HoustonRockets... we are NOT a political organization."
The Rockets are in Japan for two exhibition games this week against NBA champions Toronto Raptors, and their head coach Mike D'Antoni on Sunday said that was the team's focus.
"We're here to concentrate on playing in Japan, playing great games and enjoying the culture of Japan," he said.
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