The NBA has tried to make it clear that it respects the rights of its executives, coaches and players to express their opinions on social and political issues, but two Houston Rockets stars were prevented from doing that following their preseason game in Japan on Thursday. According to the league, that was not supposed to happen.
When a reporter asked James Harden and Russell Westbrook a question related to the China situation after Houston’s 118-111 exhibition win over the Toronto Raptors, a Rockets team staffer quickly interjected and said the players would be answering “basketball questions only.”
James Harden and Russell Westbrook were asked if they would “feel differently” about speaking on political and societal affairs because of the events with the NBA/China.
A spokesperson interrupted and informed the reporter that the players would answer basketball questions only. pic.twitter.com/zMe8uWz2hY
— Alykhan Bijani (@Rockets_Insider) October 10, 2019
The question was actually a more general one about whether Westbrook and Harden would be hesitant to express themselves freely going forward given all that has happened in recent days, but they were still stopped from answering it.
A few hours later, the NBA said the Rockets staffer “inappropriately interjected” and apologized to the reporter who was cut off.
NBA comment on Rockets postgame in Japan today: “A team representative inappropriately interjected to prevent CNN’s Christina Macfarlane from receiving an answer to her question. We’ve apologized to Ms. Macfarlane as this was inconsistent with how the NBA conducts media events.”
— Tim Reynolds (@ByTimReynolds) October 10, 2019
This is yet another example of what a mess this situation has become. The NBA is caught between protecting its multibillion-dollar business interests while also remaining consistent with its longstanding views on freedom of speech, and that is precisely why commissioner Adam Silver has had to release multiple statements this week.
Rockets GM Daryl Morey angered many in China when he tweeted his support of the pro-democracy protests that have been ongoing in Hong Kong. China is a communist country, so now Silver has to somehow tread the line between staying on the good side of his communist business partners and supporting a league executive who essentially said “democracy is a good thing.” There’s simply no easy way to handle it, and that’s why there has been so much flip-flopping over the issue.