Basketball Hall of Fame player Shaquille O'Neal lent his support to Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey, who ignited an international clash with China earlier this month when he tweeted support for anti-government protests in Hong Kong.
O'Neal, who didn't say whether he agreed with Morey, said he was right to speak out.
"Daryl Morey was right. Whenever you see something wrong going on anywhere in the world, you should have the right to say, 'That's not right.' And that's what he did. But again, sometimes in business you have to tip toe around things," O'Neal said Tuesday night.
"They understand our values, we understand their values. And here, we have the right to speak, especially with social media. We're going to say whatever we want to say whenever we want to say it," said O'Neal, who was speaking on TNT's pregame show before the league opened its regular season between the Toronto Raptors and New Orleans Pelicans.
Morey's now-deleted Oct. 4 tweet: "Fight for Freedom. Stand With Hong Kong," has caused a rift between China and the NBA as executives publicly support Morey's protected right to free speech in America.
Chinese state television declined to show Tuesday's openers, which also featured the Los Angeles Lakers against the Clippers, according to ESPN. The Walt Disney-owned network's media partner, Tencent, which owns the digital streaming rights for the NBA in China, also limited the number of broadcasts shown in the preseason.
Last week, NBA commissioner Adam Silver admitted the NBA suffered "substantial" financial losses as the rift intensified. The league's salary cap also could suffer if the losses continue, two league executives told CNBC.
"I don't know where we go from here," Silver said at an event hosted by Time magazine in New York. "The financial consequences have been and may continue to be fairly dramatic."
Silver said Chinese officials asked the NBA league to fire Morey, a point the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Geng Shuang, denied, according to Reuters.
O'Neal, 47, said if people can't comprehend what the United States values are regarding free speech, "that's something they have to deal with."
"We as American people, we do a lot of business in China, and they know and understand our values, and we understand their values. And one of our best values here in America is free speech," O'Neal said. "We' re allowed to say what we want to say, and we're allowed to speak up about injustices, and that's just how it goes. And if people don't understand that, that's just something they have to deal with it."