LOS ANGELES – NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal on Tuesday said he agreed with Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, who came under fire from China after he voiced his support for Hong Kong democracy protests this month.
Morey apologized and quickly deleted his tweet, but his backing of the protests in the Chinese-ruled city angered Beijing, Chinese fans and the team’s business partners in a market worth an estimated $4 billion to the league.
“Daryl Morey was right,” O’Neal said on TNT’s “Inside the NBA program” in Los Angeles on the opening night of the National Basketball Association season.
“Whenever you see something wrong going on anywhere in the world, you should have the right to say ‘That’s not right’ and that’s what he did,” he added.
O’Neal said that even if the values in the two countries differ, they need to show each other respect.
“We as American people, we do a lot of business in China and they know and understand our values and we understand their values,” he said. “And one of our best values here in America is free speech. We’re allowed to say what we want to say and we’re allowed to speak up about injustices and that’s just how it goes.
“And if people don’t understand that, that’s something that they have to deal with.”
O’Neal added that with rise of social media, Americans cannot be silenced.
“We gonna say whatever we want to say, whenever we want to say it,” he explained.
Shaquille O’Neal is one of the few in the NBA standing up to China
The controversy erupted when Morey sent out a tweet that included an image captioned, “Fight For Freedom. Stand With Hong Kong.”
In the aftermath of the tweet, China stopped broadcasts and streams of two pre-season games in the country between the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets, while the NBA canceled many player appearances and took down ads.
The NBA and its representatives have largely shied away from supporting Morey or challenging China, where the league draws millions of fans and billions of dollars in revenue. Some, like superstar LeBron James, even seemed to side with the Chinese in the dispute.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver on Thursday said the fallout had caused the league substantial financial losses in China.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday said it was “completely inappropriate” for China to retaliate against U.S. businesses for commenting on pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, CNBC reported.
(Reporting by Rory Carroll and Pluralist.)