During TNT’s pre-game show on opening night of the NBA season Tuesday, Shaquille O’Neal strongly defended Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, who caused an international firestorm earlier this month by tweeting a pro-Democracy message about protesters in Hong Kong.
“As American people, we do a lot of business in China,” O’Neal said. “And they know and understand our values and we understand their values. And one of our best values in America is free speech. We’re allowed to say what we want to say and we’re allowed to speak up on injustices, and that’s just how it goes.”
“Daryl Morey was right,” he added, definitively. “Whenever you see something going on wrong anywhere in the world, you should have the right to say that’s not right, and that’s what he did.”
Acknowledging that you sometimes “have to tiptoe around things” when it comes to business, O’Neal added, “Here, we have the right to speak. And especially with social media, we’re going to say whatever we want to say, when we want to say it.”
O’Neal’s comments stood in sharp contrast to those made by current NBA star LeBron James, who waded into the controversy last week, saying, “Yes, we do have freedom of speech. But at times, there are ramifications for the negative that can happen when you’re not thinking about others, when you only think about yourself.” He went on to say that Morey was “misinformed” on the situation in Hong Kong.
Later, when Charles Barkley pushed back, saying that “trashing” China could hurt both the NBA and Nike, O’Neal held firm. “China can't tell us what to do and we can't tell them what to do, that's the bottom line,” he said.
“We all have responsibility to our employer,” Barkley fired back. “I can’t come on TV and say anything I want to politically. I can’t do that.” When O’Neal said he doesn’t “have a problem” with what Morey tweeted, Barkley added, “Daryl Morey has done a good job, but his allegiance is to the Houston Rockets and the NBA and listen, he can quit if he’s not happy with it.”
Shortly after the segment aired, the official NBA on TNT Twitter account posted a tweet that read, “Inside the NBA discusses recent surrounding the NBA and China” and included a video clip of the moment. But moments later, it appears to have been quickly deleted.
Morey also quickly deleted his original tweet, which read simply, “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.” But that did not stop China from suspending all ties with the Houston Rockets franchise and threatening the league’s ability to broadcast games in that massive international market.