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Sixers distance themselves from the Daryl Morey-China controversy

The Houston Rockets general manager showed support for Hong Kong anti-government protesters in a tweet, drawing the ire of some NBA business partners in China.

Sixers Joel Embiid taps fists with members of the coaching staff during training camp on Oct. 4.
Sixers Joel Embiid taps fists with members of the coaching staff during training camp on Oct. 4.Read moreELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer

The 76ers want to steer clear of the controversy resulting from a tweet that Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey sent Friday in support of Hong Kong anti-government protesters.

One reason the Sixers are more relevant in this situation is that on Tuesday they will host the Guangzhou Loong-Lions of the Chinese Basketball Association in a preseason game at the Wells Fargo Center.

Morey tweeted an image that read “Fight for Freedom, Stand with Hong Kong,” referring to the four-month-old protests in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.

He later deleted the tweet, saying he didn’t intend to offend any of the Rockets’ Chinese fans or sponsors.

Just last season the Sixers played two preseason games in China.

Before the postpractice interviews, Sixers senior vice president of communications Dave Sholler was asked about the situation and holding Tuesday’s game.

“The game will go on as planned,” Sholler said. “First and foremost, we played in China last year and it was an incredible experience for our team and our organization, and we felt that support all of last year and to this year. We love our fans there, the passion, the intensity they have for the sport, and I think most importantly the game of basketball possesses an incredible power to bring people together. And as we play the Lions tomorrow, that is what it is all about. It is about this incredible platform that basketball has provided to bring people together.”

Sholler called the Morey situation “a complex issue" and said there was a meeting with the team and coaches to discuss the issue on Monday morning. He said the team often meets to discuss various issues, whether societal or sports-related. He then talked about Tuesday’s game.

“One of the things that I think worth highlighting is how much planning went into this game with the Lions. They have been in our city for several days now and tomorrow again is a fantastic opportunity to bring people together for the game of basketball,” Sholler said.

When asked if there was any comment about what Morey tweeted, Sholler said, “No.”

No other Sixers executives were made available for comment.

The Sixers players did not have much to say about the situation involving Morey.

“I don’t know the details of the situation, all I know is we have fans all over the world and this brings us together, and I appreciate all our fans,” Ben Simmons said. “I don’t know all the details, but I don’t care to comment on the situation.”

Josh Richardson, who stood alongside Simmons during the interviews, was also noncommittal.

“The same,” Richardson said, agreeing with Simmons. "The game is global, and look at our roster, we have guys from everywhere. So we just try to keep it here and appreciate everybody.”

Center Kyle O’Quinn said he needed to know more about the Morey situation before giving an opinion.

“I haven’t heard much about it and am still catching up on it, so before I comment I want to get all the details and get an opinion based on how I feel about it,” O’Quinn said.

Coach Brett Brown didn’t want to comment on what Morey tweeted.

“Those are Daryl’s thoughts,” Brown said. “At this time last year, we were in China and had a fantastic experience.”

Brown, the former coach of the Australian national team, said he has been to China between 30 to 35 times and lauded the fans for their passion for the game. And the game is all he wanted to talk about.

“I think our focus is really just about playing the Loong-Lions and [we’re] excited to play the game tomorrow," Brown said.

Morey sent a two-part tweet on Monday from Japan, where Houston is playing this week.

"I did not intend my tweet to cause any offense to Rockets fans and friends of mine in China. I was merely voicing one thought, based on one interpretation, of one complicated event. I have had a lot of opportunity since that tweet to hear and consider other perspectives.

“I have always appreciated the significant support our Chinese fans and sponsors have provided and I would hope that those who are upset will know that offending or misunderstanding them was not my intention. My tweets are my own and in no way represent the Rockets or the NBA.”

The Rockets have been a popular team in China, ever since they made 7-foot-6 center Yao Ming the first overall pick in the 2002 draft.

Yao was an eight-time All-Star selection for the Rockets in a career that was cut short by a foot injury. He is now president of the Chinese Basketball Association, which said it was suspending its relationship with the Rockets over the tweet.

In addition, Tencent -- a major media partner of the NBA in China with a streaming deal that is worth $1.5 billion over the next five years -- and Chinese state television both said they would not be showing Rockets games. according to the Associated Press and other outlets.

Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta sent this tweet criticizing Morey. It said: Listen @dmorey does not speak for the @HoustonRockets. Our presence in Tokyo is all about the promotion of the @NBA internationally and we are NOT a political organization

The NBA released a statement on Sunday night about the matter from the league’s chief communications officer, Mike Bass:

“We recognize that the views expressed by Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey have deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China, which is regrettable. While Daryl has made it clear that his tweet does not represent the Rockets or the NBA, the values of the league support individuals’ educating themselves and sharing their views on matters important to them. We have great respect for the history and culture of China and hope that sports and the NBA can be used as a unifying force to bridge cultural divides and bring people together.”