China’s state broadcaster CCTV warned Friday those who “hurt the feelings of the Chinese people will have to pay a price” after Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey stepped down.
CCTV suspended NBA broadcasts last October after Morey tweeted “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong”, referring to protests Beijing calls separatist and seditious.
The broadcaster abruptly ended the year-long blackout on Saturday for Game 5 of the NBA Finals, eventually won by the LA Lakers, and now days later Morey has departed after guiding the Rockets’ basketball operations since the 2007-2008 season.
In his statement, the 48-year-old did not mention the controversy which upended relations between the NBA and China, the league’s most lucrative overseas market.
But in a short reaction, CCTV suggested that Morey may have been forced out.
“We reiterate that any words and deeds that attempt to hurt the feelings of the Chinese people will have to pay a price,” CCTV said in a statement on its website which was also read out on air.
The broadcaster said it wished Morey well, but used a phrase that in Chinese is usually reserved for people who have died.
Morey’s departure made major news in China, where the NBA commands a huge following and his tweet last year caused uproar, and demands that he be sacked.
On the Twitter-like Weibo the hashtag “Morey resigns” had 110 million views as of Friday lunchtime and was a top-25 trending topic.
NBA executives initially defended Morey’s right to freedom of expression, prompting numerous Chinese business partners and celebrities to cut ties with the league.
In May, the NBA named Michael Ma — the son of CCTV Sports executive Ma Guoli — as CEO of NBA China, setting off speculation that his appointment could mend ties.