NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said on Thursday the consequences stemming from the political firestorm with China have been “fairly dramatic,” as the government curtails the country’s lucrative relationship with professional basketball.
The league has been battered by its response to a now-deleted tweet by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, who publicly voiced support for protesters in Hong Kong. The October 4 post sparked a furor that’s prompted Beijing to yank the NBA off the air in retaliation, and drew Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James into the fray.
“The losses have already been substantial,” Silver said, speaking at the TIME 100 Health Summit. “Our games are not back on the air in China, as we speak, and we’ll see what happens next.”
Silver said he has been traveling to China for the past 15 years, and felt the league had made significant inroads in the country that could now be undermined by the controversy.
“I felt we had made enormous progress in building cultural exchanges with the Chinese people and I have to regret that much of that is lost. I’m not even sure where we’ll go from here, but..the financial consequences have been and may continue to be fairly dramatic,” he added.
Silver said the league has been on air with CCTV in China for more than 30 years, and more than 600 million people watched last season.
The NBA and its players have come under widespread criticism to their response to the original tweet by Morey, who has since apologized.
“We recognize that the views expressed by Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey have deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China, which is regrettable,” NBA chief communications officer Mike Bass said in the wake of the controversy.
The league’s initial response using the word “regrettable” sparked further controversy about the NBA’s stance on free speech, but Silver said the statement was targeting the Chinese fans who were upset by the original tweet.
Silver said the league stood up for Morey’s right to free speech by making it clear to the Chinese government that he would not be penalized.
The NBA’s top official said he felt that Chinese fans understood there was a difference in a platform for expression and government platforms.
“I didn’t see it as my role as commissioner of the NBA to weigh in on the substance on the protest,” Silver said.
Citing an open letter written by Brooklyn Nets owner Joe Tsai, Silver said he found that perspective “perfectly appropriate.”
Anjalee Khemlani is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @AnjKhem