Philadelphia 76ers' Daryl Morey was worried Hong Kong tweet might end NBA career

Why Stephen A. is critical of Morey's 2019 Hong Kong tweet (2:45)

Stephen A. Smith acknowledges that former Rockets GM Daryl Morey had the right intentions with his tweet about Hong Kong, but is insistent it caused more harm than good to the NBA. (2:45)

New Philadelphia 76ers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey shared concern that his career in the NBA might have been over after sharing a post on social media that expressed support for a protest group in Hong Kong.

"In the last 12 months, I had moments where I thought I might never work in the NBA again, for reasons I was willing to go down for," Morey told ESPN while discussing his new role with the 76ers. "But I love working, I love what I do, and I didn't want that to happen."

The question so many have posed is why Morey felt compelled to take on the issue. While his team was in China during the height of the controversy, LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers questioned Morey's timing and his knowledge of the topic.

"I don't want to get in a word or sentence feud with Daryl Morey, but I believe he wasn't educated on the situation at hand, and he spoke," James said at the time. "And so many people could have been harmed, not only financially, but physically, emotionally, spiritually."

What James did not know was that Morey had befriended a number of Hong Kong residents while attending business school and had intimate knowledge of the challenges they faced living in a semi-autonomous region. His decision to tweet his support was neither rash nor uninformed, but a conscious effort to express his solidarity for people he knew well.

Asked months later if he regrets his decision to support the protests in Hong Kong, Morey paused for several seconds before responding, "I'm very comfortable with what I did."

Even so, Morey never anticipated the vitriol his tweet generated. At one point, he said, based on intel provided to him, Morey had grave concerns regarding the safety of his wife and two children.

"I was actually really, really worried about that," Morey said. He declined to elaborate on the specific threats. "Luckily I had [access to] different people who were assisting me with that and giving me advice on how to handle it," he said. "Hopefully, I've been able to get where we have some level of safety.

"But I was extremely concerned. You don't want the second-most powerful government on Earth mad at you, if you can avoid it. In this case, I couldn't."

On Oct. 4, 2019, Morey, then the Houston Rockets' general manager, tweeted an image that expressed support for a protest group in Hong Kong with an accompanying caption that read, "Fight For Freedom. Stand With Hong Kong."

The protests were sparked by a proposed extradition law that would have allowed suspects to be sent to China to face trial. Activists saw that as a threat to the legal rights that Hong Kong residents have under the current "one country, two systems" framework.

Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta quickly distanced the team from Morey's statement, and the NBA said on Oct. 7, 2019, that the views expressed by Morey had "deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China, which is regrettable." Commissioner Adam Silver followed up by pledging that the NBA would not censor its players, employees or team owners.

"I do know there are consequences from freedom of speech; we will have to live with those consequences," Silver said on Oct. 8, 2019. "For those who question our motivation, this is about far more than growing our business."

The NBA estimated it lost hundreds of millions of dollars over the controversy, but, despite persistent calls from Chinese officials for Morey's dismissal, the Rockets stood firm in retaining him.

Morey announced his resignation from the Rockets on Oct. 15, 2020.