Chinese state media on Wednesday accused the U.S. National Basketball Association (NBA) of endorsing violence and peddling a secessionist pipe dream in an escalating row over comments by a team official in support of protests in Hong Kong.
Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey apologized on Monday for a Twitter post over the weekend backing the Hong Kong protests. The comment, quickly deleted, sparked anger in China, and broadcasters, sportswear companies and sponsors have said they would review their relationship with the league.
The NBA initially described the anger over the message as regrettable, but Commissioner Adam Silver told a news conference in Japan on Tuesday that it was not up to the NBA to regulate what players, employees and team owners said.
But on Wednesday, an editorial in the official English-language China Daily accused Silver of brazenly endorsing Morey's secessionist-supporting tweet and giving a shot to the arms of the rioters of Hong Kong.
If Silver thinks endorsing the indiscriminate violence the radical Hong Kong protesters are resorting to ... is supporting freedom of expression, then he should think again.
The protests were a bid to liberate the city and a secessionist pipe-dream peddled by demonstrators to justify their summer hooliganism, it added.
The protests were sparked by opposition to a law allowing extradition to mainland China, but have since evolved into broader calls for democracy. None of the protesters' five demands is secession or independence.
The state-owned Global Times tabloid accused Silver of caving in to political pressure, saying the NBA was treating the Chinese market with arrogant disregard.
Tweeting something offensive to the Chinese people before a series of NBA promotional activities in China only shows a lack of intellect, respect, and responsibility, it said.
Chinese state television has already cancelled plans to air exhibition games played in China this week, saying in a statement that a country's sovereignty and social stability were not within the scope of freedom of speech.