China suspends work with Rockets over GM tweet

China's official basketball association, headed by Hall of Famer and Houston Rockets great Yao Ming, said it will suspend cooperation with the Rockets after general manager Daryl Morey tweeted in support of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.

The Chinese Basketball Association said Sunday on its Twitter-like Weibo account that Morey had made "improper remarks regarding Hong Kong" to which it expressed its "strong opposition."

Morey's now-deleted tweet read: "Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong."

In a statement tweeted Sunday, Morey attempted to clarify the matter.

"I did not intend my tweet to cause any offense to Rockets fans and friends of mine in China," Morey said in the statement. "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."

China's relationship with the Rockets has been especially close because Yao played his entire NBA career with the team. Yao was appointed as the association's president in February 2017, in what was presented as a step toward reform for an organization that had in the past been led by government bureaucrats.

"I have always appreciated the significant support our Chinese fans and sponsors have provided," Morey tweeted. "And I would hope that those who are upset will know that offending or misunderstanding them was not my intention. My tweets are my own and in no way represent the Rockets or the NBA."

The CBA's reaction underscores Beijing's extreme sensitivity about foreign attitudes toward the ongoing protests that have lately grown into violence in the semiautonomous territory. China accuses foreign parties in the United States and elsewhere of encouraging the demonstrations.

On Friday night, Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta denounced Morey's tweet, saying the Rockets are not a political organization.

Fertitta told ESPN's Tim MacMahon that he felt compelled, due to the reaction to Morey's tweet, to publicly clarify that the Rockets do not take political positions, but Fertitta stressed that he has no issues with Morey.

"I have the best general manager in the league," Fertitta said. "Everything is fine with Daryl and me. We got a huge backlash, and I wanted to make clear that the organization has no political position. We're here to play basketball and not to offend anybody."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.