Basketball great Shaquille O’Neal has muscled his way into the NBA row with China by backing Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey.
Speaking on TNT television’s Inside the NBA show, the Orlando Magic and Los Angeles Lakers legend stressed that Morey “was right” to tweet support for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters.
“Daryl Morey was right,” O’Neal said. “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.”
O’Neal had a star-studded career in the NBA between 1992 and 2011. Built like a pickup truck, he dominated the court with brawn and sheer brilliance.
At times outspoken, he waded into the controversy, highlighting American “values.”
“We as American people do a lot of business in China,” O’Neal said. “They know and understand our values, and we understand their values.
“And one of our best values here in America is free speech.
“We’re allowed to say what we want to say and we’re allowed to speak up about injustices, and that’s just how it goes. And if people don’t understand that, that’s something that they have to deal with,” he added.
Earlier this month, Morey triggered an international row between the world’s two largest economies after tweeting an image captioned “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.”
It came right before the LA Lakers and Brooklyn Nets arrived in China for what proved to be a tense two-game exhibition tour.
The fallout from Morey’s remarks meant broadcasters refused to air the games in the country while public anger raged with 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 tweet also cast a cloud over the NBA’s lucrative broadcasting, merchandising and sponsorship interests in the country, where it has millions of fans.
Last week, LA Lakers superstar LeBron James fired from the lip when he said Morey “wasn’t educated” on the situation.
During a pre-game interview in Los Angeles, he told the American media that he believed Morey was “misinformed.”
“I don’t want to get into a word or sentence feud with Daryl Morey,” he said, “but I believe he wasn’t educated on the situation at hand and he spoke,” James said.
“We all have freedom of speech, but at times there are ramifications for the negative that can happen when you’re not thinking about others and you’re only thinking about yourself,” he added.
– additional reporting AFP