As the NBA regular season tipped off in the United States and Canada, fans in China were left in the dark, as state television decided against airing the games in the aftermath of a recent controversy stemming from a general manager's tweet supporting pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
Chinese fans were unable to watch the defending-champion Toronto Raptors take on the New Orleans Pelicans and the Los Angeles Lakers play the Los Angeles Clippers, according to ESPN.
CCTV usually has shown the league’s opening night games but pulled the broadcast over the tweet sent by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey earlier this month. The league has been immersed in controversy ever since.
Tencent, the NBA’s streaming partner, reduced its NBA schedule in the wake of the tweet and only showed the game between the Lakers and Clippers.
CCTV said in a broadcast Saturday that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver should fear “retribution” for allegedly lying when he said Chinese officials asked him to fire Morey over the week. CCTV called it "ugly for the president of an internationally influential sports league to openly make up a lie to discredit China,” according to The New York Times. The broadcast added Silver’s alleged lie showed he had character issues.
CCTV’s broadcast also blasted Silver's moral compass, saying “once someone’s morality goes wrong, he will receive retribution sooner or later” and that “freedom of speech does not mean that it can be arbitrary nonsense.”
The state TV response came days after the NBA commissioner said at a Time Magazine event that the Chinese government urged him to fire Morey for the tweet but that he refused the request.
“We made clear that we were being asked to fire him, by the Chinese government, by the parties we dealt with, government and business,” Silver said. “We said there's no chance that's happening. There's no chance we'll even discipline him.”
Silver added: “These American values — we are an American business — travel with us wherever we go. And one of those values is free expression. We wanted to make sure that everyone understood we were supporting free expression.”
On Friday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said no request was made of the commissioner.
“We especially went to the relevant departments to check on this claim,” Geng told reporters in Beijing, according to Reuters. “The Chinese government has never made this kind of request.”