Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr speaks during a post-game conference after playing against the Los Angeles Lakers at Chase Center on October 5, 2019 in San Francisco, California. (Chris Victorio | Special to S.F. Examiner).

Steve Kerr and NBA reckon with China problem

Outspoken Warriors head coach prefers not to go too deep on NBA’s biggest international partner

CHASE CENTER — Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr has been historically vocal when it comes to political issues affecting the United States.

He’s been eager to share his opinions on a variety of topics, from presidential elections, gun control to medical marijuana during his tenure.

When it came to mainland China, the ongoing protests in Hong Kong and Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s comments regarding it, Kerr chose to keep his opinions to himself.

“Actually, I don’t,” Kerr said when asked if had any comments or feelings regarding the matter. ‘It’s a really bizarre international story and a lot of us really don’t know what to make of it.”

The international outcry was sparked by a now-deleted Friday tweet from Morey, the Houston Rockets general manager, in which he stated, “Fight for freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.” The tweet was in reference to pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong that have recently turned violent.

Protests were sparked in the special administrative district of China — which, from 1846 until 1997, had enjoyed a level of semi-autonomy and self-rule under the British — in response to an extradition law that threatens to send criminals to mainland China in order to face trial. Activists saw this law as an infringement on their existing rights, as Hong Kong, due to its history, has maintined separate governing and economic systems.

After deleting the original tweet, which was not received well by Chinese officials, Morey sent out an apology.

“I did not intend my tweet to cause any offense to Rockets fans and friends of mine in China,” Morey said. “I was merely voicing one thought, based on one interpretation, of one complicated event.”

A communist country, China is one of the largest NBA markets in the world, generating millions of dollars in revenue for the league and its team, but does not take criticism of its government lightly.

According to the New York Times, sponsors in China have paused their deals with the Rockets and have removed their two remaining games in the country from its schedule.

In the aftermath of Morey’s tweet, the NBA released a statement, apologizing further for the ill-received remarks.

“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,” the statement read. “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.”

Despite the NBA’s stance on the matter, Warriors president and chief operating officer Rick Welts does not expect the incident to deter players and front office members from voicing their opinions moving forward.

“One of the things that makes the NBA special is that we do encourage individuals to have the opportunity — not just players, whether it’s player, management or anyone else — to have personal opinions,” Welts said in an interview with CNBC on Monday.

“It’s not going to happen,” Welts added when asked if the NBA will have to muzzle its members moving forward. “That’s not what the NBA is about. It’s not what our leadership is about.”

As the most popular team in China, the Warriors as a whole — as well as several of their super-star players — have spent many months overseas broadening the reach of their brands and the league overall.

On top of annual tours made by Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, Golden State spent a portion of its 2017 preseason in China in an effort to support the NBA’s quest to make basketball a global game.

Because of this, Welts expects business to go on as usual in China.

“What I can tell you for sure is that it’s not going to erase the decades of work that myself and everyone else in the NBA has put in to building a tremendous base for basketball in China,” Welts said. “This will pass and I do think our future in China is pretty remarkable.”

As for Kerr, Welts said that the coach that’s brought three championships to Golden State over the last five years has an extraordinary world view considering his background, as he was born in Beirut, Lebanon.

But moving forward, Kerr wants to stay out of messes — like the one Morey is in — by sticking to things he knows about.

“What I’ve found is that it’s easy to speak on issues that I’m passionate about and that I feel like I’m well-versed on,” Kerr said. “I’ve found that it makes most sense to stick to topics that fall in that category. And so I try to keep my comments to those things and so it’s not difficult.”

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