NBA: Houston Rockets executive Daryl Morey, whose HK tweet sparked row with China, steps down

Daryl Morey remains to the end of this month to help the Rockets complete their search for a new coach.
Daryl Morey remains to the end of this month to help the Rockets complete their search for a new coach.PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (AFP) - Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, whose tweet last year supporting Hong Kong's freedom led to a rift between China and the National Basketball Association (NBA), stepped down on Thursday (Oct 15).

He departed of his own choice after guiding the Rockets' basketball operations since the 2007-2008 season, making the decision after the team were beaten in the second round of the NBA play-offs in the Covid-19 quarantine bubble in Orlando.

"After returning from Orlando and reflecting on what has been an amazing 14 years with the Houston Rockets, and after discussing my thoughts with family and close friends, I've decided I'll be stepping away from the Rockets organization effective Nov 1," he said in a statement.

His final campaign brought severe scrutiny after a tweet one year ago regarding Hong Kong protests that led to China suspending sponsorship deals with the NBA and pulling NBA game telecasts off Chinese television for a year. The broadcasts resumed only with last Friday's fifth game of the NBA Finals.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver and Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta both backed Morey, the 2018 NBA Executive of the Year, despite Chinese calls for his dismissal and what Silver estimated were financial losses to the NBA of about US$400 million (S$544 million).

"Tilman and I have had many conversations since I returned and his unwavering support and counsel during our time together has been critical to our success," Morey said.

After the Rockets were eliminated from this year's NBA play-offs, he approached Fertitta about leaving and an exit deal was completed.

"Daryl is a brilliant innovator who helped the Rockets become a perennial contender," Fertitta said. "I have truly enjoyed working with Daryl and couldn't have asked for a better general manager to have at the start of my ownership."

Morey, who had signed a five-year contract extension in March last year, remains to the end of this month to help the Rockets complete their search for a new coach.

Rafael Stone, the Rockets' executive vice-president of basketball operations, will be promoted into Morey's old job while Eli Witus will be promoted to assistant general manager, according to the reports.

"I am very confident that the future - for the Rockets and for our incredible fans - is in great hands, and that the Rockets will continue to perform at the highest level," Morey said.

The Rockets have made the NBA play-offs for each of the past eight seasons, the league's longest active run. They lost to the eventual champions Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference semi-finals.