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Will the departure of Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey signal a reset of relations between the NBA and China? Illustration: Henry Wong

Does Daryl Morey’s Rockets resignation mean the saga is ended? A timeline of the NBA’s China crisis

  • Player attacks, hall-of-famer defences, support, criticism, accusations and rebuttals – all have been a feature of a hugely turbulent period for relations between the NBA and China
The NBA’s China crisis appears to be finally drawing to a conclusion after a damaging year out in the cold. Some reports suggest the fallout from Daryl Morey’s tweet in support of Hong Kong protesters at the beginning of October last year has cost the NBA some US$400 million.
Relations between the basketball giant and the government of its biggest earner appeared to have thawed in recent months, and that was confirmed when China’s state broadcaster CCTV made a surprise announcement that it would be televising game five of the recently concluded NBA Finals.
A conciliatory tone from the NBA was the reason given by the Chinese government for its unlikely about face.

Now, with the announcement that the offending Morey will leave his post with the Rockets, it seems like both sides are preparing to put the saga to bed. But questions still abound.

Will the departure of Daryl Morey see a reset in relations between the NBA and China? Photo: AFP

Below is a timeline of the key events that started with Morey’s controversial tweet and led up to today, when Morey became no longer an employee of the NBA, as Chinese officials apparently requested all along.

October 4, 2019

Morey’s supportive tweet

The Houston Rockets are due in China for a preseason exhibition during the turbulent period of unrest in Hong Kong. The Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweets an image showing support for anti-government protesters with the words: “Stand With Hong Kong”. Morey deletes the tweet soon after.

October 5

Rockets in preservation mode

Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta distances the team from Morey’s views as mainland Chinese social media outrage explodes with NBA fans expressing their fury over the tweet.

October 6

The fallout begins

The Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) halts cooperation with the Houston Rockets over what it calls “improper remarks” as Chinese partners including Li-Ning, Tencent and the Shanghai Pudong Development Bank abandon their support for the franchise.

October 7

Harden toes the line

The Houston Rockets’ star player James Harden speaks to the media during a trip to Tokyo and apologises for the incident saying, “We apologise. We love China.”

October 8

NBA China event affected

An NBA community event in Shanghai is abruptly cancelled by the local government without explanation. Meanwhile in the US, the incident gets “ the South Park treatment” as the satirical cartoon’s creators produce an episode featuring a mocking “apology” to the Chinese government.

October 8

NBA chief defends Morey

Later that day, NBA commissioner Adam Silver speaks out in defence of his employees’ rights to freedom of expression as the league comes under fire from Chinese fans and partners.

October 9

CCTV and retailers begin blacklisting

Chinese state TV channel CCTV says it will suspend its broadcasting of the NBA as e-commerce platforms Taobao, and Pinduoduo block the sale of any products related to the Rockets.

October 10

Activists show support

Activists in the US attend a preseason game in Washington, where the Wizards host CBA team Guangzhou Loong Lions, holding up signs in support of the Hong Kong protesters. Security throws out a man holding a “Free Tibet” sign.

October 11

China exhibition goes ahead

After eleventh-hour talks, an exhibition game between the Brooklyn Nets and the LA Lakers is allowed to go ahead in Shanghai, but CCTV and Tencent refuse to show coverage of the game. Promotional events were cancelled and posters removed across Shanghai.

October 12

Pompeo urges NBA to stay strong

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urges the NBA to stand up to China despite increasing criticism. Pompeo says he wishes the NBA had acknowledged the detainment of Uygur Muslims in internment camps.

October 14

James attacks Morey

LA Lakers superstar LeBron James says Morey was “misinformed” about the ramifications of his tweet and “uneducated” on the situation in Hong Kong.

October 15

Hongkongers turn on James

Protesters in Hong Kong burn James’ LA Lakers jerseys, outraged at his criticism of Morey and the four-time NBA champion’s implicit support for the Chinese government. The protesters hold signs that read: “Thank you Morey. Stand with Hong Kong”.

October 17

Silver accuses China

Silver reveals that the Chinese government and the league’s business partners in China asked for Morey to be sacked over the tweet.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver claimed he was pressured by the Chinese government to fire Daryl Morey. Photo: AFP

October 18

China denies accusation

Beijing denies that Chinese officials asked for Morey to be sacked over his tweet supporting Hong Kong anti-government protesters.

October 19

CCTV threatens Silver

CCTV issues ominous threat to Silver, warning that he will face “retribution” for defaming China after he claimed government officials had asked him to fire Morey over the tweet.

October 23

Shaq defends Morey

NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal says “Daryl Morey was right” as fans protest during the opening night of games featuring the LA Lakers and the Toronto Raptors.

LeBron James (centre) was criticised by Hongkongers for his stance on the saga. Photo: TNS

October 25

Pence criticises NBA

US Vice-President Mike Pence condemns NBA players and executives who he accuses of siding with the Chinese government over its criticism of Morey.

February 4

NBA warns teams off China visits

NBA issues a China travel warning to its teams, advising them against playing in the coronavirus-affected country. NBA sources estimate that, by that time, the league had lost between US$150 million and US$200 million during its ongoing China blackout.

July 1

Silver has hope

Silver discusses a thawing of relations with China as he calls for “mutual respect” and reveals talks have been ongoing with Chinese government officials. Silver speculates that the NBA may have lost up to US$400 million from lack of access to China, its largest market outside the US.

July 30

CCTV refuses to bend

As the NBA season resumes in Florida after pausing during the outbreak of the coronavirus, CCTV reiterates its stance on broadcasting league games and insists it will continue its league blackout.

August 19

NBA feels Xinjiang pressure

The largest Muslim pressure group in the US, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, urges the NBA to “stand on the right side of history” over Uygur Muslim oppression in Xinjiang, China, asking the organisation to cease all operations in China and “prioritise its commitment to social justice over profits”.

October 10, 2020

NBA returns to Chinese TV

NBA makes an unexpected return to TVs in China as CCTV resumes its broadcasting of the league with little fanfare. The potential championship-deciding game between the LA Lakers and Miami Heat is the first NBA game to be televised on the state broadcaster in over a year.

October 16

Rockets fire Morey

Morey announces his resignation one year into a five-year contract just weeks after leading the Rockets into the NBA Finals for a record eighth consecutive time. The news is celebrated on Chinese social media.