Shaquille O’Neal Backs Free Speech Amid China Dispute: ‘Daryl Morey Was Right’

Shaquille O'Neal on the red carpet.
MICHAEL TULLBERG / Getty Images

Shaquille O’Neal is standing in Daryl Morey’s corner amid the NBA’s growing dispute with China.

The former basketball legend sounded off on the league’s fast-growing controversy that started when the Houston Rockets general manager tweeted his support Hong Kong protesters who are speaking out against what they see as encroachments from the Chinese government. The league has seen a massive backlash, with China cutting ties with the NBA and backing out of some of its major investments. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said the Chinese government even pressured the league to fire Morey, which Silver said he would not do.

O’Neal has now spoken up in support of Morey, saying before the NBA season tipped off on Tuesday that he stood behind Morey’s decision to speak up against injustice. O’Neal, who has his own business interest in China, said that those in China understand American values, which includes freedom of speech.

“Daryl Morey was right,” O’Neal said on TNT Television’s Inside the NBA broadcast on Tuesday, via Deadline.

“Whenever you see something wrong going on anywhere in the world, you should have the right to say ‘That’s not right’ and that’s what he did.”

On Tuesday, the rift between China and the NBA continued to grow as China’s state broadcaster did not show any of the games that took place on the opening night of the season. As the Guardian reported, broadcaster CCTV normally shows the opening games but blacked them out on Tuesday. The NBA’s streaming partner in China, the telecommunications giant Tencent, only showed the game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers.

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Adam Silver said the league has already lost a significant amount of money, as the league has made significant efforts to expand its market in China.

The massive backlash from China has led to a rift within the NBA as well. While Morey deleted his tweet and apologized for the reaction that his comment caused, the fallout continued as teams played exhibition games in China. Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James appeared to push back, implying that Morey was not informed on the issue before he spoke out about it. As ESPN noted, James has close ties to China and spent time there in each of the last 15 offseasons. The report noted that James also privately pushed back against the league leaving it up to players to take questions and speak out on the issue before league brass addressed it.