The Chinese state media has warned that National Basketball Association (NBA) commissioner Adam Silver will face "retribution" for defaming China, in the latest twist to a dispute that began with a basketball team executive tweeting his support for the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
On Saturday, China's state broadcaster CCTV said Silver had "crossed the bottom line" by continuing to defend Daryl Morey, general manager of the Houston Rockets, who posted an image on Twitter on October 4 saying "Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong", South China Morning Post reported.
Making his first comments about the dispute since returning from a visit to China for two preseason games, Silver on Thursday said that Beijing had asked the NBA to fire Morey.
"We said there's no chance that's happening," he said in an interview at the Time 100 Health Summit in New York.
"There's no chance we'll even discipline him," Silver added.
However, refuting the allegations, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said on Friday that Beijing had never made such a demand.
"Silver has spared no effort to portray himself as a fighter for free speech and used freedom of speech as an excuse to cover for Morey, who voiced his support for the violent actors in Hong Kong," it said.
"This has crossed the bottom line of the Chinese people."
Silver's handling of the controversy had proved his "double standards", CCTV said in one of its reports, adding that he had "defamed" China on the international stage.
"To please some American politicians, Silver has fabricated lies out of nothing and has sought to paint China as unforgiving," the report said.
The way in which the NBA boss had defended Morey showed he had "problems in his character," it said, adding that he "will receive retribution sooner or later".
As the war of words continued between the two sides, protesters wearing T-shirts emblazoned with slogans such as "Free Tibet" and "Stand With Hong Kong" demonstrated at a preseason game between the Toronto Raptors and the Brooklyn Nets in New York on Friday night.
The protests in Hong Kong began in June with a rally against a controversial and now-withdrawn bill that would have allowed the extradition of Hongkongers to mainland China. The unrest has become increasingly violent and the protesters now have five demands, including calls for universal suffrage in the city and an independent inquiry into allegations of police brutality. (ANI)