As the NBA season tips off in the midst of controversy, former basketball star and reserve police officer Shaquille O'Neal stood up for free speech and Houston Rockets assistant general manager Daryl Morey.
"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," the four-time NBA champion said during Tuesday's pregame show on TNT.
"As American people we do a lot of business in China. And they know and understand our values, and we understand their values," O'Neal said. "One of our best values here in America is free speech. We're allowed to say what we want to say and we are allowed to speak up about injustices, and that's just how it goes. If people don't understand that, that's something they have to deal with."
O'Neal's defense of Morey distinguishes him from other basketball stars who have spoken out about the controversy. Superstar LeBron James said Morey was "misinformed" on the issue, and said he thought Morey was "not really educated on the situation" when Morey sent a tweet supporting pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.
O'Neal said that despite an "unfortunate" situation, he believed Morey was right to speak out.
"I just thought it was unfortunate for both parties, and then you've got people speaking when they don't know what they're talking about," he said. "But Daryl Morey was right."
"When it comes to business, sometimes you have to tiptoe around things," O'Neal continued. "Again, they understand our values and we understand their values. Here, we have the right to speak. Especially with social media, we're going to say whatever we want to say when we want to say it."
Shaq on Daryl Morey/China "One of our best values here in America is free speech we're allowed to say what we want to say and we are allowed to speak out on injustices and that's just how it goes. and if people don't understand that that's something they have to deal with. pic.twitter.com/vefcHSPlMD
— gifdsports (@gifdsports) October 22, 2019
The NBA has been embroiled in controversy since Morey sent a tweet with the slogan, "Fight for Freedom, Stand with Hong Kong" on Oct. 4. Morey was referring to the ongoing protests in Hong Kong that have become a source of conflict between the NBA and China.
"I’m hoping that as two weeks have now gone by, and there seem to be further signals of de-escalation, that we can begin renewing those relationships," Silver told the Wall Street Journal.
ESPN reported that players from the Brooklyn Nets and the Los Angeles Lakers held a "tense" meeting with Silver during which several players voiced discomfort with being put in the middle of the controversy.