BEIJING: China’s state broadcaster CCTV warned on Friday (Oct 16) that those who “hurt the feelings of the Chinese people will have to pay a price” after Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey stepped down.
CCTV suspended NBA broadcasts last October after Morey tweeted “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong”, referring to protests Beijing calls separatist and seditious.
The broadcaster abruptly ended the year-long blackout on Saturday for Game 5 of the NBA Finals, eventually won by the LA Lakers, and now days later Morey has departed after guiding the Rockets’ basketball operations since the 2007-2008 season.
In his statement, the 48-year-old did not mention the controversy which upended relations between the NBA and China, the league’s most lucrative overseas market.
“After returning from Orlando and reflecting on what has been an amazing 14 years with the Houston Rockets, and after discussing my thoughts with family and close friends, I’ve decided I’ll be stepping away from the Rockets organisation effective Nov 1,” Morey said.
“It has been the most gratifying experience of my professional life to lead the Rockets basketball organisation, and I look forward to working with Tilman (Fertitta) and the management team on the transition.”
Rockets owner Fertitta called Morey a “brilliant innovator who helped the Rockets become a perennial contender”.
“I have truly enjoyed working with Daryl and couldn’t have asked for a better general manager to have at the start of my ownership.”
In a short reaction, CCTV suggested that Morey may have been forced out.
“We reiterate that any words and deeds that attempt to hurt the feelings of the Chinese people will have to pay a price,” CCTV said in a statement on its website which was also read out on air.
The broadcaster said it wished Morey well, but used a phrase that in Chinese is usually reserved for people who have died.
Morey’s departure made major news in China, where the NBA commands a huge following and his tweet last year caused uproar, and demands that he be sacked.
On the Twitter-like Weibo the hashtag “Morey resigns” had 110 million views as of Friday lunchtime and was a top-25 trending topic.
NBA executives initially defended Morey’s right to freedom of expression, prompting numerous Chinese business partners and celebrities to cut ties with the league.
In May, the NBA named Michael Ma – the son of CCTV Sports executive Ma Guoli – as CEO of NBA China, setting off speculation that his appointment could mend ties.