Amid a growing conflict between the NBA and China, league Commissioner Adam Silver said Tuesday that he will protect NBA employees’ freedom of speech, a stance applauded by Clippers coach Doc Rivers.
Silver’s statement came days after a since-deleted tweet by Houston general manager Daryl Morey backing pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong angered Chinese fans and officials and put the league in a tenuous position in one of its biggest global markets.
The NBA was criticized for its initial response Sunday to the controversy, which said in part that it was “regrettable” that Morey’s tweet may have offended Chinese fans. Silver added Tuesday, at a news conference in Japan, where the Rockets played Toronto, that he understood the tweet had upset “millions and millions of our fans” in China, a major revenue source for the league, but that the NBA would not apologize because Morey was exercising his freedom of expression.
“We don’t get killed for saying in what we believe in, what we get is disagreed [with],” Rivers said. “We can disagree. I can disagree with everything you say, I have the right to do that and I have the right to say so and that’s good. That’s what this country is about, freedom of speech, and we should always have freedom of speech. But I did tell [players] this, freedom of speech does not mean freedom of consequences.
“You can have freedom of speech, but there may be consequences for what you say and that’s why we get back to the thoughtfulness — think about it before you say it because there could be consequences.”
In response to Silver, China’s main state television broadcaster will not air two NBA preseason games scheduled to be held this week in China and shared in a statement its “strong dissatisfaction to Adam Silver offering as an excuse the right to freedom of expression.” Earlier in the week, Tencent, which broadcasts NBA games in China, said it would no longer broadcast Rockets games.
“I didn’t know enough about it, so first thing I did today was I went online and I started reading about the whole thing,” Rivers said, when asked for his thoughts on China and the NBA. “That will be a topic for our guys, though, that we’ll talk about.”
Rivers worked closely with Silver during his first crisis as commissioner in 2014, when the NBA banned former Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life after he was accused of making racist statements. The coach is also one of the league’s most outspoken figures on political and social issues. During training camp one year ago, Rivers cited the controversial Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh as a reason he asks players to vote.
“I think it’s my duty to talk to them about current events,” he said.
Rivers again urged players and coaches to register to vote at the end of Tuesday’s practice, noting that an employee event outside the team’s Playa Vista training facility featured a registration campaign called I Am A Voter.
“Being a black male, it’s personal for me,” Rivers said. “I’m not telling anyone who to vote for. I’m telling you to go vote and I think our young people don’t understand how hard we had to fight to have the right to vote or not vote, so we have to do better. Like we all complain, but then we don’t vote. So it’s very personal.
“… I think all of our jobs are to get involved in the community. It’s a bailout when we say [players] should do it; we all should do it.”
Rivers didn’t say whether Kawhi Leonard will play in Thursday’s preseason game against Denver at Staples Center but said the forward played “great” and participated in Tuesday’s entire practice. Paul George continues to work out in noncontact situations only. … The team will host a practice open to the public Tuesday at USC’s Galen Center, with doors opening at 6 p.m.