NBA in China: Rockets shut down question to James Harden, Russell Westbrook about tweet fallout

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A Houston Rockets media relations official shut down a reporter’s question to stars James Harden and Russell Westbrook on Thursday amid the continuing controversy surrounding the NBA and China.

A video posted on Twitter by The Athletic’s Rockets insider, Alykhan Bijani, showed CNN’s Christina Macfarlane asking a question about whether Harden and Westbrook “would feel differently about speaking out” about geopolitical issues in the future due to the fallout from this week, which saw stars and coaches appear uncomfortable answering China-specific questions -- which earned them a public rebuke from President Trump.

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But instead of allowing the two to answer the general question, the spokesperson chimed in almost immediately and told Macfarlane the questions were only going to be about basketball topics. When the spokesperson said the question had already been answered this week, Macfarlane shot back and said it was a “legitimate question.”

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An NBA spokesman later apologized for how the situation was handled in a statement:

"During today's Houston Rockets media availability, a team representative inappropriately interjected to prevent CNN's Christina Macfarlane from receiving an answer to her question. We've apologized to Ms. Macfarlane as this was inconsistent with how the NBA conducts media events."

The NBA-China controversy originated in a single tweet sent by Rockets general manager Daryl Morey supporting the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. It's a subject Harden has been answering reporters' questions about, telling the media earlier in the week that Morey's tweet hasn't been a distraction, according to The Athletic.

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“It’s not a distraction,” he said Tuesday. “We’re focusing on our team and getting better. We’re glad to see Russ [Westbrook] back out there on the basketball court. Our sole focus is on the Rockets and how we can get better every single day.”

Harden, earlier this week, apologized to China for Morey’s tweet.

“We apologize. You know, we love China. We love playing there. For both of us, individually, we go there once or twice a year. They show us the most important love.” he said. “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.”

Earlier in Thursday’s news conference, Macfarlane asked coach Mike D’Antoni if he had a message to Chinese fans who may have been let down by the NBA's response to Morey's tweet.

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“You know what, it’s a tough situation,” he said. “It’s very difficult. Adam Silver speaks for the NBA. I work for the NBA. I go with Adam...Commissioner Silver will do the right thing. You can’t answer questions like that because you’re wrong no matter what. I’m here to speak basketball. Talk basketball. Whatever I say is not right…I coach basketball, I’m not a diplomat or around the world.”

The Rockets finished up a series in Japan on Thursday.

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The team plays two more preseason games next week before the regular season begins.