A public relations staffer promptly shut down a CNN reporter's attempt to ask NBA All-Stars James Harden and Russell Westbrook about social activism amid ongoing friction between the league and China over Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey's support for anti-government protesters in Hong Kong.
USA Today's Jeff Zillgitt reported that the public relations staffer does not work for the NBA. Houston Rockets spokespeople did not immediately respond when asked by the Daily Mail if the person works for the team.
'The NBA has always been a league that prides itself on its players and its coaches being able to speak out openly about political and societal affairs,' CNN's Christina Macfarlane said at Thursday's press conference following a Rockets exhibition in Japan. 'I just wonder after the events of this week, and the fallout we've seen, whether you both feel differently about speaking out in that way in the future?'
'Excuse me, we are taking basketball questions only,' a voice can be heard telling Macfarlane.
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CNN's Christina Macfarlane was not allowed to ask James Harden or Russell Westbrook about China and its relationship with the NBA
Both James Harden (left) and Russell Westbrook (right) have business interests in China
Macfarlane quickly responded: 'It's a legitimate question.'
'It's not,' the PR staffer said.
Undeterred, Macfarlane continued to press.
'This is an event that's happened this week during the NBA,' she said.
'It's already been answered,' the PR staffer replied.
Macfarlane made one last attempt to direct the question to Harden, who remained silent.
'This is a question that's not been answered,' Macfarlane said. 'James?'
Neither player responded to Macfarlane's question and she ultimately surrendered the microphone.
Morey's since-deleted tweet ignited tensions between the NBA and China, which remains at odds with activists in Hong Kong over the implementation of extradition laws in the former British territory.
The NBA has not apologized for Morey's social media post, but the league has taken criticism for its perceived kowtowing to China.
Morey was not in attendance on Thursday in Shanghai, but he was a target for Chinese basketball fans during the Lakers-Nets gamesonos sonos One (Gen 2) - Voice Controlled Smart Speaker with Amazon Alexa Built-in - Black read more
The tense moment came after NBA commissioner Adam Silver's statement earlier this week in which he specifically said the league would not censor its players.
Harden and Westbrook both made public apologies to Chinese fans following Morey's tweet. Both players have business interests in China, where basketball has flourished in popularity.
Speaking at a press conference in Japan on Tuesday,