Shaq Defends NBA Executive Who Sent Tweet in Support of Hong Kong Protesters

October 23, 2019 Updated: October 23, 2019

Shaquille O’Neal said the NBA executive who spoke out in support of the Hong Kong protesters was correct.

“As American people, we do a lot of business in China,” O’Neal said on the league’s opening night, Oct. 22. “And they know and understand our values and we understand their values. And one of our best values here in America is free speech. We’re allowed to say what we want to say and we’re allowed to speak up about injustices, and that’s just how it goes. And if people don’t understand that, that’s something they have to deal with.”

“Daryl Morey was right,” O’Neal added. “Whenever you see something wrong going on anywhere in the world, you should have the right to say that’s not right, and that’s what he did.”

The former NBA legend is part of a popular team that provides analysis before and during games on TNT.

Morey, the Houston Rockets general manager, posted a tweet that said “Stand With Hong Kong” on Oct. 4. Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta soon said the post didn’t represent the team and Rockets star James Harden, in China for an exhibition game, apologized to the Chinese.

The NBA said in a statement in Chinese that it apologized to China while saying something different in English. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver later said the league supports free speech and declined to fire or punish Morey under pressure from the Chinese regime and Chinese businesses.

Anti-Chinese Communist Party activists protest outside Staples Center where free t-shirts were distributed supporting Hong Kong ahead of the Lakers vs Clippers NBA season opener in Los Angeles on Oct. 22, 2019. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)
Daryl Morey, general manager of the Houston Rockets speaks during a press conference in Houston, Texas on July 19, 2012. (Bob Levey/Getty Images)

The NBA is considered one of the most popular international leagues and China is one of its most lucrative fan bases, with hundreds of millions of fans. Top NBA players tour the country every summer in an effort to sell shoes and one of the major shoe companies, Li-Ning, is based there.

A number of others involved in the league, including LeBron James, have either opted to stay neutral or attacked Morey. James called Morey “misinformed.”

On TNT on Tuesday night, O’Neal’s co-analyst Charles Barkley said that “trashing” China could hurt both the NBA and Nike. O’Neal responded, saying: “China can’t tell us what to do and we can’t tell them what to do, that’s the bottom line.”

“We all have responsibility to our employer,” Barkley told O’Neal. “I can’t come on TV and say anything I want to politically. I can’t do that.”

O’Neal said he doesn’t “have a problem” with what Morey tweeted, Barkley continued, saying: “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.”

NBA on TNT posted a clip of the discussion on Twitter, writing: “Inside the NBA discusses recent surrounding the NBA and China.”

The account soon deleted the missive.

Follow Zachary on Twitter: @zackstieber