Chinese state broadcaster to Daryl Morey: ‘Rest in peace’

Foreign Affairs

The former Houston Rockets GM tweeted support for Hong Kong protesters last October. Morey’s resignation on Thursday is currently trending on Chinese social media, with many NBA fans in China happy for his departure.

Daryl Morey

Daryl Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets since 2007, announced yesterday that he is stepping down from his role as of November 1.

Morey, whose legacy includes pioneering the use of advanced statistics in the NBA, cited personal reasons for his resignation — but in the world outside basketball, it’s possible he’ll always be better known for a tweet.

Last October 4, Morey came under the spotlight of both Western and Chinese media for tweeting an image in support of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters during the most tense moments of the anti-extradition bill movement.

Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta and face-of-the-franchise James Harden immediately distanced themselves from Morey’s tweet, but the team still lost all of its Chinese sponsorships and was boycotted throughout China. The NBA, too, was pulled from Chinese state broadcasting (until just last weekend) and Tencent’s web streaming (until this past July) after NBA commissioner Adam Silver rejected the Chinese government’s request to fire Morey.

The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, among other outlets, reported on Morey’s resignation with the China upheaval at the center.

China’s biggest state broadcaster, CCTV, also weighed in on Morey’s announcement. In a brief statement posted to its website (in Chinese), it cited a CCTV spokesperson as saying:

“We are aware of Morey’s resignation, and have no comment at this time. We congratulate Raphael Stone for his promotion as the Rockets new GM. We want to reiterate that any words or actions that attempt to hurt the feelings of the Chinese people will have its consequences.

“We wish Mr. Morey a safe journey.”

In the last line, the spokesperson used the words “一路走好” (yīlù zǒu hǎo), which in nearly all instances is said in reference to the recently deceased. The most common translation for it is “Rest in peace.”

In Chinese online sports communities, it is common for celebrities accused of “supporting separatist groups” (like Morey, Mesut Ozil, and Franck Ribery) to be called “dead.” For example, people will write, “Why do you speak of the dead?” when one of these names is brought up.

Preliminary reactions on Chinese forums indicate that fans see Morey’s resignation as a victory of sorts. Rockets fans in particular seem glad. The words 火箭队 (huǒjiàn duì) — literally, “Rockets Team” — were briefly censored on social media last October, so fans had to refer to the Rockets as “that famous NBA team in the southwest” or “the pixelated team.”

Meanwhile, nationalistic paper Global Times published a story headlined, “Sports fans rejoice over Morey’s resignation as he ‘obstructed NBA’s ties with China.’”

“Morey stepping down” became a trending topic on Sina Weibo, with over 67 million views in two hours. Many said they believe that Morey’s prejudice and irresponsible words were one of the reasons hindering the previously fruitful cultural and sports exchanges between China and the US.

Su Qun, a senior NBA commentator, said in a Weibo post that, “everyone is happy based on this result.”