Houston Rockets star James Harden offered an apology to China on Monday, days after the team’s general manager tweeted support of Hong Kong protesters.
Harden, along with teammate Russell Westbrook, spoke to reporters in Tokyo three days after Daryl Morey tweeted: “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.”
“We apologize. You know, we love China. We love playing there,” Harden said, according to ESPN. “For both of us individually, we go there once or twice a year. They show us the most important love.”
Harden added: “We appreciate them as a fan base. We love everything there about them, and we appreciate the support that they give us individually and as [an] organization.”
China suspended work with the Rockets after Morey’s tweet, which has since been deleted.
“We want to express our indignation and strong condemnation,” sportswear brand Li-Ning said in a statement on the Chinese social network Weibo. “We have already stopped our cooperation with the Houston Rockets, and continue to urge them to give a clear answer on this matter.”
SPD Bank also announced it was suspending related marketing activities with the team.
“SPD Bank Credit Card Center expresses strong protest and opposition to the wrong remarks made by Houston Rockets’ General Manager Daryl Morey,” the bank said in a statement.
Morey later tweeted: “I did not intend my tweet to cause any offense to Rockets fans and friends of mine in China. I was merely voicing one thought, based on one interpretation, of one complicated event. I have had a lot of opportunity since that tweet to hear and consider other perspectives.”
He added: “I have always appreciated the significant support our Chinese fans and sponsors have provided and I would hope that those who are upset will know that offending or misunderstanding them was not my intention. My tweets are my own and in no way represent the Rockets or the NBA.”
Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta tweeted that Morey’s original statement wasn’t the view of the Rockets’ organization.
“Our presence in Tokyo is all about the promotion of the @NBA internationally and we are NOT a political organization,” he tweeted.
Fertitta later told ESPN: “I have the best general manager in the league. Everything is fine with Daryl and me. We got a huge backlash, and I wanted to make clear that the organization has no political position. We're here to play basketball and not to offend anybody.
The Rockets have a strong following in China thanks to the most famous Chinese basketball player of all time, Yao Ming, who the team drafted in 2002. Yao is also the president of the country’s official basketball association.
“We have great respect for the history and culture of China and hope that sports and the NBA can be used as a unifying force to bridge cultural divides and bring people together,” the NBA said in a statement.
Protests in Hong Kong have made worldwide news over the past couple of months thanks to increased violence between the government and those fighting for increased rights and freedom. China appears extremely sensitive to outside parties encouraging the demonstrators, especially within a group they have strong ties to.
Fox News' David Aaro contributed to this report.