The deepening rift between the NBA and China took on a political angle in the United States on Wednesday, with a bipartisan group of U.S. Congress members urging the league to suspend business activities in the Asian nation until Chinese industries end a boycott of the NBA.
This development comes in the wake of a scandal that began when Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey retweeted a Hong Kong pro-democracy tweet.
The eight members of Congress who signed a letter addressed to commissioner Adam Silver include two political polar opposites: Republican senator Ted Cruz of Texas, and Democratic representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.
The letter challenges Silver with strong language.
"NBA players have a rich history of speaking out on sensitive topics of social justice and human rights inside the United States and the NBA takes pride in defending their right to do so," it reads. "Yet while it is easy to defend freedom of speech when it costs you nothing, equivocating when profits are at stake is a betrayal of fundamental American values."
Silver took heat last week following the NBA's initial statement after Morey's since-deleted tweet, specifically over the league bending to China's authoritarian political system instead of favoring the right to self-expression.
There's little doubt the incident has damaged the NBA's brand in the world's second-largest economy, with several of its Chinese business partners suspending working relationships with the league.
The drama also drew in Donald Trump on Wednesday, with the president criticizing comments that Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr and San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich made about the situation.
Hong Kong became a special administrative region of China in 1997 following more than a century of British colonial rule. Protesters in the territory are concerned about disappearing autonomy under its unique governing agreement with China.
The Chinese government objects to outsiders showing support for dissidents, saying that Morey's retweet "challenges national sovereignty and social stability" and "is not within the scope of freedom of speech."