Houston Rockets sneakers and other merchandise were pulled from several Nike stores in major Chinese cities amid the furor surrounding a tweet from the team’s general manager in support of anti-government protests in Hong Kong.
Managers at five Nike stores in Beijing and Shanghai told Reuters during visits on Thursday they had been told in recent days via a memo from management that all Rockets merchandise had to be removed. Reuters was unable to view the memo.
Although Rockets general manager Daryl Morey has since apologized for his tweet last week, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver further angered authorities when he said the league backed Morey’s right to exercise his freedom of expression.
Despite the controversy, the NBA was pressing ahead with an exhibition game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets in Shanghai on Thursday night. Promotional events earlier in the week had been canceled.
The stakes are high for NBA, whose league business in China is said to be worth more than $4 billion. The world’s most populous nation is Nike’s top source of revenue growth as other regions slow.
Three Nike stores in Shenzhen also kept Rockets merchandise off the shelves, as well as NBA products in general, staff told Reuters by phone. Three Nike stores in Chengdu, a bustling inland city in southwest China, also removed Rockets products.
Nike and its China office did not respond to multiple Reuters requests for comment.
A specialist NBA store at Super Brand Mall, a major shopping center in the Shanghai financial district of Lujiazui, has also removed all Rockets-related merchandise.
“Other stuff, there hasn’t been any impact, and no one has said we need to withdraw it,” said a store manager, laughing. “If they say that all NBA stuff has to be withdrawn then our store will go bankrupt.”
At two basketball-themed NBA Playzone family entertainment centers in Shanghai and Beijing opened by NBA China, staff confirmed that Rockets products had been removed.
“Rockets products were hot before and when you stepped into the store, it was full of red. Now, it is mostly yellow and blue,” the colors of the Golden State Warriors, said a manager at the Shanghai Playzone, who like the NBA store employee declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue.
NBA China did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment about the entertainment centers.