SHANGHAI, China – The National Basketball Association (NBA) said Friday, October 11 it had canceled all remaining scheduled press events for its preseason games in China, citing the "complicated and unprecedented" controversy over Hong Kong protests and free speech.
"We have decided not to hold media availability for our teams for the remainder of our trip in China," the NBA said in a statement.
"They have been placed into a complicated and unprecedented situation while abroad and we believe it would be unfair to ask them to address these matters in real time." (READ: NBA: 'We are not apologizing' for Hong Kong tweet)
An NBA representative told AFP that the second of two games in China between the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets, set for Saturday night in the southern city of Shenzhen, was still expected to proceed as planned.
The two teams played their first game in Shanghai on Thursday. (READ: Hail King James: NBA reigns for a night in China game)
Broadcasters earlier dropped plans to air the two games in China in protest. (READ: China state TV to suspend broadcast of NBA exhibition games)
The annual China exhibition games have been dogged by controversy since a Houston Rockets executive's expression of support for Hong Kong pro-democracy protests sparked a fierce Chinese backlash.
The row has caused the NBA's Chinese sponsors to cut ties in protest and has developed into yet another irritant in the fractious US-China relationship after leading US politicians urged the NBA to ditch all activities in China in retaliation.
The NBA had already canceled a series of planned promotional events and press conferences in Shanghai as the feud reached fever pitch.
The teams flew to Shenzhen earlier Friday after playing their first game in Shanghai the night before.
The Shanghai game proceeded smoothly despite the raging controversy, as a near-capacity crowd of 18,000 Chinese fans cheered wildly for Lakers superstar LeBron James and his cohorts.
Broadcasters had earlier dropped plans to air the two games in China to protest Morey's tweet and the NBA's subsequent defense of his right to free speech.
The NBA holds the preseason games annually to stoke its already red-hot popularity in China, where it is arguably the single most popular and followed sports league.
But the feud has turned the teams' visit into a bizarre spectacle – a promotional tour in which normally outspoken and fan-friendly stars like James have hurried past media and Chinese supporters seeking autographs.
Every scheduled promotional or press event in Shanghai this week had already been canceled one-by-one, and Friday's announcement by the NBA made it a clean sweep for the whole tour.
The NBA's announcement comes amid signs that Chinese authorities are keen to de-escalate the bitter political row, with China's state-controlled press and heavily censored internet notably lacking in fresh attacks on the NBA on Friday.
China is involved in sensitive negotiations with the United States to resolve a mutually damaging trade war, with senior officials returning to the bargaining table this week.
The basketball quarrel also posed a particular dilemma for Communist authorities because outraged social media users began lashing out at Chinese fans of the NBA as "traitors," threatening to split national opinion.
Hu Xijin, top editor of the nationalist tabloid Global Times, said both sides now want to cool the feud down, according to the New York Times.
"I think this issue will gradually de-escalate – Global Times will not push to keep it hot," Hu said in response to the paper's request for comment.
"I also hope the American side won't make any moves to escalate it."
China reacts fiercely to any perceived foreign interference in its handling of Hong Kong. – Rappler.com