China’s leading e-commerce platforms, including Alibaba’s Taobao, JD.com and Pinduoduo, have blocked products related to US basketball team the Houston Rockets, whose general manager Daryl Morey on Oct 4 posted a now-deleted tweet that indicated support for the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
Online searches for Houston Rockets merchandise on the platforms turned up a message saying “items not found”.
Alibaba did not immediately respond to several requests for comment. A spokeswoman from Pinduoduo declined to comment on the issue. A spokesman from JD.com said the company had no comment on the issue.
It is not the first time Chinese e-commerce sites have blocked items due to the Hong Kong protests triggered by the city government's now-abandoned extradition bill.
In August, Bloomberg reported that searches on Taobao for umbrellas, masks, and helmets – standard equipment used by the protesters – showed “item not found” for buyers based in Hong Kong while those on the mainland were still able to access such products.
A search by the Post on Tuesday showed those items were still not available on Taobao’s Hong Kong site.
The controversial tweet, which said “fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong”, has got the Texas-based team into hot water.
The Chinese Basketball Association said on Sunday that it would suspend cooperation with the Rockets. The chairman of the association is Yao Ming, who played eight seasons with the Rockets until he retired in 2011.
CCTV5, one of China’s most popular state-own sports channels, said it would suspend airing of NBA games after NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said “as a values-based organization that I want to make it clear ... that Daryl Morey is supported in terms of his ability to exercise his freedom of expression.”
On Monday Joe Tsai, owner of the Brooklyn Nets NBA team and a co-founder of Alibaba, wrote a Facebook post to explain why Chinese basketball fans were upset about the tweets.
He wrote: “1.4 billion Chinese citizens stand united when it comes to the territorial integrity of China and the country’s sovereignty over her homeland. This issue is non-negotiable.”
Rockets player James Harden apologised in Japan on Monday after the backlash. “We love China,” Harden said on the sidelines of practice held before a Rockets preseason exhibition against the Toronto Raptors in Tokyo.
Alibaba is the parent company of the South China Morning Post. Tsai serves as chairman of the SCMP board of directors. – South China Morning Post