I can say whatever I want about Donald Trump. And I can say whatever I want about Nancy Pelosi & Co.

I can because that right is protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. If I lived in Beijing, I could not express similar views regarding Chinese President Xi Jinping or China’s Communist Party.


It is worth remembering these days, as both political sides lob grenades at the other, that we shouldn’t take the right to speak freely for granted.

Also worth remembering is that freedom of speech just means freedom from the government making laws prohibiting it. Exercising that freedom can absolutely have consequences. If I say or write something that causes an uproar prompting calls for my ouster, I’d likely be fired quicker than I can say, “that’s why I don’t tweet."

That’s business. And oftentimes business and freedom of speech don’t mix too well, as we saw with the NBA in the wake of the seven words Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey fired off on Twitter a little more than a week ago: “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong.”

It’s doubtful Morey put much thought into typing out the 36 characters that would turn into an international incident. He was probably consuming the news of the day and felt moved to support the protesters in Hong Kong who have been taking to the streets.

It was his right to do so, of course. But the truths we hold self-evident aren’t necessarily shared the world wide. On Twitter, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction of outrage. And, in this case, that outrage came from the leaders of a nation that contributes millions into the Rockets’ coffers and billions into the NBA’s.

The Chinese consulate was “deeply shocked” by Morey’s “erroneous comments on Hong Kong” and called for the Rockets to “correct the error and take immediate concrete measures to eliminate the adverse impact.”

Uh-oh. You could almost hear the alarms sounding at NBA headquarters. Offend China? With some half-a-billion basketball fans? With an estimated $4 billion coming in over the next few years from sponsorships, streaming deals and merchandise sales?

Morey deleted the tweet, the Rockets’ owner distanced his organization from it and star player James Harden was sent out to apologize and reaffirm that “we love China.” Despite its reputation as the professional sports league most interested in social justice, no NBA player or coach expressed support for Hong Kong.

The NBA itself took a few days to come up with a tepid response at having "deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China, which is regrettable” and then had to put out another non-apology apology. Neither of which did anything to quell the growing anger in China. Both of which garnered deserved criticism in this country.

The reaction from the NBA, which prides itself on its progressive attitude toward its players and coaches freely speaking their minds on all manner of non-basketball issues, did the impossible. It united politicians on both sides of the aisle.

“It’s clear that the NBA is more interested in money than human rights,” tweeted Sen. Rick Scott, R-Florida. “The NBA is kowtowing to Beijing to protect their bottom line and disavowing those with the temerity to #standwithHongKong. Shameful!” And Texas Democrat Beto O’Rourke, who is running for president, tweeted that "the only thing the NBA should be apologizing for is their blatant prioritization of profits over human rights. What an embarrassment."

China also was none too happy. The state-run TV network that broadcasts NBA games put out a statement saying, in part, “any remarks that challenge national sovereignty and social stability are not within the scope of freedom of speech.”

Not in China they aren't.

The NBA is hardly the first big company to be bullied into capitulation by China. Marriott fired a low-level employee for the audacity to “like” a pro-Tibet tweet that rankled China. Numerous airlines scrubbed references to Taiwan because China demanded it. Mercedes-Benz, Versace, the Gap and a litany of others have put finances above their principles, groveling and asking for absolution for perceived transgressions against cash cow China.


The only real holdout? “South Park.” The long-running and often controversial cartoon was banned in China after an episode titled “Band in China.” This week, the show’s creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, issued their own apology. Sort of. And roasted the NBA in doing so.

“Like the NBA, we welcome the Chinese censors into our homes and into our hearts. We too love money more than freedom and democracy. ... Long live the Great Communist Party of China! May this autumn’s sorghum harvest be bountiful! We good now China?”

One could easily imagine the NBA begging for forgiveness, loaning them LeBron James for a season or two and asking, “We good now China?”

For now, the Chinese government, Chinese streaming services and Chinese corporations with NBA sponsorships have spoken. As for the Chinese people? Well, we really don’t know their opinion on the issue. They aren’t allowed to have one.

Bob Blubaugh is the editor of the Carroll County Times. His column appears Sundays. Email him at bob.blubaugh@carrollcountytimes.com.