By Todd Horwitz 

 NBA Trouble in China

Beijing and the National Basketball Association hardened their standoff on Tuesday, as China canceled broadcasts of preseason games and the league’s commissioner said he wouldn’t apologize for a weekend tweet by a team executive that triggered a firestorm of criticism.

The escalation in tensions threatened to plunge the NBA’s carefully cultivated China franchise into deeper crisis, with more merchants halting sales of NBA merchandise, many Chinese celebrities pulling out of an NBA event in Shanghai and a major Chinese sponsor yanking its endorsement of the games. Tickets from the designated online agent for Thursday’s Shanghai game became unavailable.

Government-run China Central Television’s decision to cancel broadcasts and online streaming of games to be played this week reflected dissatisfaction with responses from the NBA and its commissioner, Adam Silver, to a message of support for antigovernment protesters in Hong Kong tweeted Friday by Daryl Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets.

Silver has been put in a delicate position since Morey’s tweet went public, mainly due to the business relationship the NBA has with China. The NBA said the number of pro basketball fans in China is twice the U.S. population. The NBA also has a $1.5 billion deal with a Chinese streaming company.

“I don’t think it’s inconsistent on one hand to be sympathetic to them, and at the same time stand by our principles,” said Silver during a news conference in Tokyo. Silver was in Japan on Tuesday for a preseason game between the Rockets and the Toronto Raptors.

That qualified defense brought criticism from U.S. politicians of all stripes, who slammed the league for bending to Chinese pressure. Republican U.S. senators Ted Cruz of Texas, Rick Scott of Florida and Josh Hawley of Missouri and Democrat Brian Schatz of Hawaii all chimed in to criticize the apologetic tone adopted by the NBA.

Todd “Bubba” Horwitz