An NBA Cares event scheduled for Wednesday in Shanghai that was supposed to feature players from the Los Angeles Lakers has been canceled, according to reports.
The teams remain scheduled to play a pair of preseason games in China, planned for Thursday morning and Saturday morning, Eastern U.S. time, amid speculation that Chinese officials or possibly the NBA might postpone those events as well. At least one U.S. lawmaker, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., has called on the league to pull out.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver was heading to Shanghai on Wednesday in an effort to repair the league’s relationship with China, according to the Associated Press. He said he did not expect the Lakers-Nets games to be canceled.
“But if those are the consequences of us adhering to our values, I still feel it’s very, very important to adhere to those values,” Silver said.
Photos posted on social media showed Lakers stars — including LeBron James and Anthony Davis — outside a facility where the team held a practice that was off-limits to the media, according to reports.
The NBA later postponed scheduled media sessions for both teams.
NBA Cares is the charity arm of the 30-team league that supports numerous causes, such as education and disaster relief.
But the two teams’ goodwill visit to the country has been overshadowed by a controversy sparked by a now-deleted Twitter message posted by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, who expressed support for pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong who have been opposing what they view as Chinese interference in the island territory’s autonomy.
The tweet was especially offensive in China because the Rockets were the team of Yao Ming, a Shanghai native who played in the NBA from 2002 to 2011 and is considered the sport’s greatest ambassador in his home country. Several Chinese companies immediately cut ties with the Rockets.
Team star James Harden, who was with the Rockets in Japan, in a separate trip from the Lakers-Nets visit in China, apologized Monday on behalf of the organization.
“We apologize. You know, we love China. We love playing there,” Harden said, according to ESPN. “For both of us individually, we go there once or twice a year. They show us the most important love.”
Hong Kong has been a special administrative region of China since 1997, when Britain relinquished control.
Morey’s tweet also placed the NBA in the position of having to choose between supporting the free-speech values of the United States and pursuing business in China, a communist nation that ranks as the world’s No. 2 economy.
Not long after the tweet appeared, Silver said at a news conference that the league was “apologetic” over the fallout, but was “not apologizing for Daryl exercising his freedom of speech.” Silver added that he “regrets” how so many Chinese people and NBA fans were upset by Morey’s message.
“Daryl Morey, as general manager of the Houston Rockets, enjoys that right as one of our employees,” Silver said, according to the Associated Press. “What I also tried to suggest is that I understand there are consequences from his freedom of speech and we will have to live with those consequences.”
Nevertheless, the league faced bipartisan criticism for its initial response.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., blasted the league as “hypocrites,” saying its players “have no problem speaking out on politics & social issues in America. But they apologize to #China for a pro democracy tweet from an NBA team executive.”
“We’re better than this,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, wrote. “Human rights shouldn’t be for sale & the NBA shouldn’t be assisting Chinese communist censorship.
On Monday, presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., wrote:
“China is trying to use its market power to silence free speech and criticism of its conduct. In response, the NBA chose its pocketbook over its principles – and our values. We should all be speaking out in support of those protesting for their rights.”
Other critics noted that normally outspoken figures in the NBA – such as Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, and star Lakers player LeBron James, have been largely silent on the controversy.
The NBA regular season is scheduled to begin Oct. 22
The Associated Press contributed to this story.