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Brooklyn Nets Disinvited Rockets GM After He Supported Hong Kong Protests: ESPN Investigation

Neil Campbell
Neil lives in Canada and writes about society and politics.
Published: April 19, 2022
Former Rockets GM Daryl Morey had his box suite cancelled by the Brooklyn Nets after supporting Hong Kong's 2019 anti-CCP protests, ESPN says.
Protesters display posters at the Southorn Playground in Hong Kong on October 15, 2019, during a rally in support of then-Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey, who spoke out on Twitter in favor of protestors, drawing much cancel culture. A new investigation by ESPN revealed that the Brooklyn Nets disinvited Morey from attending a game amid the controversy. (Image: ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP via Getty Images)

The Brooklyn Nets refunded former Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey’s purchase of a box suite at the Barclays Center for a game between the Rockets and the Nets after Morey publicly voiced support for Hong Kong’s massive protest movement in 2019, states a new investigation by ESPN.

A fight for freedom

On Oct. 4, 2019, Morey famously tweeted an image containing support for the protests against the communist mainland Chinese regime with the words “Fight for Freedom, Stand with Hong Kong,” an exercise of free speech that brought the GM a great deal of heat.

Within an hour, Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta, while quoting Morey’s statement, separated his club from his manager’s statements, and perhaps wisely so, as no less than the Chinese government quickly called on Commissioner Adam Silver to fire Morey.

Two days later, Morey deleted his tweet.

At the time, league role models such as LeBron James decried Morey for his support, stating he “wasn’t educated on the situation at hand.”

James added that although free speech is great, he claimed it can have “ramifications for the negative” when you’re “not thinking about others and you only think about yourself.”

Although Morey ultimately kept his job, he resigned from the Rockets, who he managed since 2007, a year later in October of 2020. 

While during his resignation Morey cited family reasons, only a month later, Morey was named President of Basketball Operations with the Philadelphia 76ers.

Relapsing conflict

In the time since, the NBA has mostly been the target of controversy surrounding an outspoken player in Enes Freedom Kanter sounding the alarm on the league’s cozy relationship with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) despite its genocide of Xinjiang Uyghurs, Tibetans, and its campaign of organ harvesting.

Kanter, an NBA veteran since 2011, was signed by the Boston Celtics under a one-year, $2.7 million contract, on Aug. 13, 2021.

However, on Feb. 10 of this year, Freedom was traded to no less than Morey’s former club, the Houston Rockets, but was immediately put on waivers the same day, leaving him without a position on any team.

Kanter has stated he believes the situation is a case of cancel culture designed to appease CCP authorities.

Meanwhile, the Nets have attracted their own brand of attention after superstar Kyrie Irving and his $35 million annual contract spent most of 2021 benched after Irving adamantly refused to be coerced into accepting a Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccine.

The Nets and Barclays also hosted one of the earliest test runs of New York State’s “Excelsior Pass” vaccine passport in March of 2021, a system that was rolled out throughout New York City later in the year.

In October, both the Nets and the Barclays Center garnered more attention after protestors in support of Irving assembled before a game, breaching security barricades and storming the front doors.

But the ante was upped again when new material about the Morey saga came to light in a recent April 14 investigation by ESPN. 

Coined Brooklyn Nets Owner Joe Tsai Is the Face of NBA’s Uneasy China Relationship, the article characterizes Nets owner Joseph Tsai as personifying “the compromises embedded in the NBA-China relationship, which brings in billions of dollars but requires the league to do business with an authoritarian government and look past the kind of social justice issues it is fighting at home.”

But as ESPN focuses on Tsai, who is also the second largest shareholder in embattled mainland tech giant Alibaba and became the sole owner of both the Nets and the Barclays Center in August of 2020, the article not-so-quietly brought light back to Morey’s controversy.

The article stated that during the controversy, which occurred only a few months after Tsai took a controlling, but not-yet-total interest in the Nets, “Morey’s supporters believed Tsai was pushing the NBA to fire Morey and offer a full-throated apology, part of a behind-the-scenes drama that reached the White House and has not been previously disclosed.”

ESPN continued, “Later, after Morey saved his job with help from powerful supporters who championed his right to free speech, the Nets quietly refunded Morey’s purchase of a suite for a Rockets game at Barclays Center.”

Based on “a person who was scheduled to attend,” ESPN said that Morey believed it was Tsai who personally “disinvited” him from attending the game at Barclays that night. 

However, “a source close to the Nets” was paraphrased as stating Tsai was “unaware of the decision, which was related to concerns about possible protests.”

Morey declined to provide comment to ESPN on the matter, while Tsai declined to be interviewed at all for the article focusing on his alleged conflicts of interest.