Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, turned up the heat Sunday on the NBA, calling it “really sad” to see the league pressured by China to engage in censorship “in the interest of big bucks.”
A “diehard Houston Rockets fan,” Mr. Cruz said China’s reaction to Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s tweet last week in support of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong shows “just how powerful the protests are.”
“[H]e tweeted a very benign tweet where he said, stand for freedom, stand with Hong Kong. And the Chinese communist government, they just about lost it,” Mr. Cruz said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” in an interview from Hong Kong.
The NBA has sought to repair relations with China after the government-controlled Chinese broadcaster announced a boycott of Rockets games while Chinese commercial sponsors cancelled their deals with the team.
“And sadly, what ended up happening is the NBA as a league began this series of apologies,” Mr. Cruz said. “And it was really sad to see an American company and indeed a global sports league like the NBA being dragooned into censoring the free speech of American citizens in the interest of big bucks. It’s not complicated why the NBA did that.”
Mr. Cruz, who wore all black in a show of solidarity with the protesters, added that “what’s happening here in Hong Kong is inspiring,” saying over two million protesters have taken to the streets “standing up for freedom, standing up for democracy, and standing up against the oppression of the Chinese communist regime.”
Mr. Cruz joined a bipartisan group of lawmakers Wednesday in a letter calling on the NBA to suspend its activities in China until the communist nation ends its boycott and “selective treatment of the Houston Rockets.”
The NBA cancelled media availability for coaches and players in China for preseason games. Stars like the Golden State Warriors guard Steph Curry and coach Steve Kerr have declined to comment on the Chinese crackdown, while Houston Rockets forward James Harden said at a press conference, “We love China and we love playing there.”
After the NBA issued an initial statement calling the tweet “regrettable,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver came out with a stronger stance, saying, “the NBA will not put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees and team owners say or will not say on these issues.”
Mr. Morey’s tweet, which he has since deleted, said, “Fight for freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.”
Chinese Central Television accused Mr. Silver of using free speech as an “excuse.”
“We voice our strong dissatisfaction and opposition to Adam Silver offering as an excuse the right to freedom of expression,” said the CCTV statement. “We believe that no comments challenging national sovereignty and social stability fall within the scope of freedom of expression.”