Brooklyn Nets owner Joe Tsai says the damage from Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey’s tweet showing support for pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong “will take a long time to repair.”
Tsai, co-founder of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, said in an open letter posted on his Facebook page that he felt the need to address the matter as someone who had spent his professional life in China.
“When I bought controlling interest in the Brooklyn Nets in September, I didn’t expect my first public communication with our fans would be to comment on something as politically charged and grossly misunderstood as the way hundreds of millions of Chinese NBA fans feel about what just happened,” Tsai wrote.
On Friday, Morey tweeted a shout-out to protesters in Hong Kong.
“Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong,” Morey wrote in the now-deleted tweet.
The Chinese Basketball Association fired back its “strong opposition” to Morey’s “improper remarks regarding Hong Kong.”
In his post, Tsai said that freedom to express one’s opinion “is an inherent American value and the NBA has been very progressive in allowing players and other constituents a platform to speak out on issues.
“The problem is, there are certain topics that are third-rail issues in certain countries, societies and communities,” he said. “Supporting a separatist movement in a Chinese territory is one of those third-rail issues, not only for the Chinese government, but also for all citizens in China.”
He continued: “The one thing that is terribly misunderstood, and often ignored, by the western press and those critical of China is that 1.4 billion Chinese citizens stand united when it comes to the territorial integrity of China and the country’s sovereignty over her homeland. This issue is non-negotiable.”
Tsai went on to cite China’s Opium Wars with the British and Japan’s invasion of China as historical examples for why the country’s psyche has “heavy baggage” toward threats to sovereignty.
“I don’t know Daryl personally. I am sure he’s a fine NBA general manager, and I will take at face value his subsequent apology that he was not as well informed as he should have been. But the hurt this incident has caused will take a long time to repair,” wrote Tsai, who was born in Taiwan, holds a Canadian passport and studied in the US.
In response to Morey’s tweet, Chinese hoops officials cut links with the Rockets, which has had ties with China since drafting native son Yao Ming.
“I did not intend my tweet to cause any offense to Rockets fans and friends of mine in China,” Morey said in a series of damage-control tweets late Sunday. “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.”