A reporter was shut down by an NBA spokesperson Thursday, after asking two Houston Rockets players about the league’s ongoing controversy with China.
Christina Macfarlane, a sports correspondent for CNN, asked James Harden and Russell Westbrook if they would “feel differently” about speaking up about political and societal affairs because of the controversy. A spokesperson shut down the question immediately, and a person reached for the microphone after Macfarlane asked it.
“The NBA has always been a league that prides itself on its players and coaches being able to speak out openly about political and societal affairs,” Macfarlane asked. “I just wonder, after the events of this week and the fallout we’ve seen, whether you both would feel differently about speaking in that way in the future.”
The spokesperson then informed the reporter that the players were “taking basketball questions only.” Macfarlane replied that she had asked “a legitimate question.”
Hours after the exchange, the NBA released an official statement in which it apologized to Macfarlane.
NBA fans were not pleased about the spokesperson shutting down the reporter’s question.
This exchange comes days after Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey's tweet, the impetus for all of the controversy, although China has had a tumultuous history with the NBA. Morey tweeted in support of the Hong Kong protesters: "Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong." Multiple Chinese businesses and sponsors suspended partnerships with the NBA shortly after the tweet.
Despite the tense atmosphere between the NBA and the Chinese government, the latter allowed the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets to play Thursday in Shanghai — albeit with a few caveats. According to ESPN, players were not made available to speak with reporters at all and a pregame news conference with commissioner Adam Silver had been canceled.
The NBA has felt pressure stateside as well. Fans with signs that read "Free Hong Kong" had them confiscated while they were attending a Wednesday game at Washington, D.C.’s Capital One Arena between the Washington Wizards and the Guangzhou Loong Lions. Other fans brought similar signs to a Philadelphia 76ers game and were removed from the arena.
The Nets and Lakers are set to play again Saturday.