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China state media: NBA’s Silver faces ‘retribution’ for saying Beijing wanted Rockets GM fired

A Chinese flag is placed on merchandise in the NBA flagship retail store on October 9, 2019 in Beijing, China.

Kevin Frayer | Getty Images

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will face “retribution sooner or later” for lying about the Chinese government, state broadcaster CCTV said in a commentary published late Friday.

The broadcaster said Silver “crossed the bottom line” by continuing to defend Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey. “To cater to the taste of certain American politicians,” CCTV alleged Silver has “fabricated lies out of thin air” and attempted to portray China as unforgiving.

Silver claimed that Beijing asked the NBA to fire Morey for his now-deleted Oct. 4 tweet, in which he showed support for the anti-government protests in Hong Kong. China denied making that request.

“I saw that in the news and I specifically checked that with the competent authority. The answer is, the Chinese government has never raised such demands,” Geng Shuang, spokesman for the Chinese Ministry, said Friday according to a transcript posted on the ministry website.

“Silver is making every effort to portray himself as a defender of free speech and is using so-called ‘freedom of speech’ to cover for Morey, who voiced support for violent elements in Hong Kong,” CCTV said, in a translation by CNBC.

An NBA spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The exchange is the latest in continued fallout over Morey’s tweet. While the NBA is extremely popular in China, the tweet has sparked a deluge of criticism as well as steep financial consequences for the league in the world’s second-largest economy. CCTV’s comments come after it previously suspended broadcast arrangements for the NBA’s preseason games in China.

Silver said at the Time 100 Summit event in New York last Thursday the NBA has already suffered “substantial” losses as Chinese businesses distance themselves from the league.

“I don’t know where we go from here,” Silver said at the summit. “The financial consequences have been and may continue to be fairly dramatic.”

The controversy underscores the difficulty American companies face when they want to do business within China’s massive economy, but can’t run the risk of saying anything that will upset the country’s government.

In an Oct. 8 statement, Silver defended Morey’s right to free speech, adding “values of equality, respect and freedom of expression have long defined the NBA — and will continue to do so.”

CNBC’s Jabari Young, Saheli Roy Choudhury and Arjun Kharpal contributed to this report.

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