American business interests in China and the country's hostility towards human rights have made the issue unavoidable in America.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver sought to affirm the league's commitment to free speech in a statement Tuesday.
"Silver's about-face, which will definitely give a shot to the arms of the rioters in Hong Kong, shows his organization is willing to be another handy tool for U.S. interference in (Hong Kong)", the state-run China Daily newspaper said in an editorial.
The NBA's reaction? The league initially looked like it was throwing Morey under the bus, saying it was "regrettable" that the tweet had "offended" Chinese officials and hoop fans.
In a separate report, the newspaper also said that some Chinese netizens had made "disrespectful comments" about the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center in NY and the Pentagon in Washington, DC.
It cited Morey's "inappropriate statement" and Silver's "inappropriate position" for the cancellation.
"Those going to watch the game live, do not forget to bring the national flag", one user wrote on Weibo.More news: In 11 hours Lionel Messi: Why I plan to stay with Barcelona
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"There are no Lakers or Nets fans tonight".
However, the Rockets would still feel a disproportionately higher impact from any sustained boycott because Houston has had a higher percentage of Chinese fans and revenues than most teams since drafting Yao Ming No. 1 overall in the 2002 NBA Draft. "And I think, most importantly, the game of basketball possesses an incredible power to bring people together", said Dave Sholler, vice president of communications for the Sixers. That's just the world we live in.
"But if those are the consequences of us adhering to our values, I still feel it's very, very important to adhere to those values", Silver said. "We have great respect for the history and culture of China and hope that sports and the National Basketball Association can be used as a unifying force to bridge cultural divides and bring people together".
Chinese online travel agency Ctrip said late on Tuesday it had stopped sales of tickets to National Basketball Association games as well as NBA-related tour packages, joining a growing list of companies severing ties with the league.
The Hong Kong protests were sparked by opposition to a bill allowing extradition to mainland China, but have evolved into broader calls for democracy. The protesters, who said they were from Freedom House, held up signs reading, "Shame the NBA", "South Park was right" and "Memo to the NBA: Principles over profit!"
Adam Silver is set to travel to China on Wednesday.
Another group of protesters, led by Freedom House Director of Advocacy Annie Boyajian, handed out "Free Hong Kong" T-shirts on the street outside the arena before the game. "Does this mean Apple intended to be an accomplice to the rioters?"
Silver also said the league is apologetic over the disharmony caused by Morey's tweet but stopped well short of apologizing for the tweet itself. Earlier this week, video game studio Blizzard banned esports athletes and casters who had voiced support for Hong Kong on livestreams.