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China wanted executive fired for supporting Hong Kong protests: NBA chief

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Protesters at the Southorn Playground in Hong Kong in support of NBA basketball Rockets general manager.

AFP, Washington :
China demanded that a Houston Rockets executive be sacked for supporting pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, NBA commissioner Adam Silver has said.
Rockets general manager Daryl Morey ignited a firestorm earlier this month with a tweeted image captioned "Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong."
It came right before the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets arrived in China for what proved to be a tense two-game exhibition tour, with broadcasters refusing to air the games, public anger raging, and local sponsors cutting ties with the NBA.
Hong Kong has been rocked by months of demonstrations by citizens who accuse Beijing of chipping away at its freedoms. China has portrayed the protesters as violent separatists and bristled at what it calls "foreign interference" in the matter.
The backlash in China against Morey's comments has cast a cloud over the NBA's lucrative broadcasting, merchandising and sponsorship interests in the country, where it has legions of fans.
"We were being asked to fire him by the Chinese government, by the parties we dealt with, government and business," Silver said during a panel discussion in New York on Thursday.
"We said there's no chance that's happening. There's no chance we'll even discipline him."
Beijing on Friday issued a flat denial.
"The Chinese government has never raised these kinds of demands," foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters.
Silver said the dispute over Morey's actions had taken a big toll on the league's bottom line.
"I don't know where we go from here," Silver said. "The financial consequences have been and may continue to be fairly dramatic.
"The losses have already been substantial," he added. "Our games are not back on the air in China as we speak, and we'll see what happens next." Silver hit back at criticism of the NBA's early statements on the crisis, which many saw as overly deferential to authoritarian Beijing.
"We were saying we regretted upsetting our fans (but) also at the same time supporting Daryl Morey's right to express himself, right to tweet... Maybe I was trying too hard to be a diplomat.
"There was no regret directed to the government (but instead) to our fans, hundreds of millions of them in China."

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