Chinese authorities seem intent on cutting off all ties to the NBA until the league repudiates Morey’s tweet. The Rockets could come up with a creative reason to fire Morey, which might satisfy China and end this controversy, possibly restoring harmony between the organization and China and, in the bigger picture, the NBA. But The Athletic has reported that isn’t going to happen, and that would run entirely counter to the image the league has carefully cultivated, not to mention that punishing or firing Morey would set a dangerous precedent. 

Silver is in a precarious position. He has to weigh the NBA’s valuable and insanely profitable relationship with China with the league’s desire to promote free speech—a hallmark, of course, of American democracy, and something for which the league has been praised in recent years. As legendary journalist Jack McCallum shared, the NBA has long wrestled with this type of tension: wanting China’s business while simultaneously feeling turned off by its social record.