Curry cautious, Barkley blasts 'idiots, fools' in NBA-China row amid more protests

San Francisco (AFP) –


Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry is taking a wait-and-see attitude about the NBA's future with China while Charles Barkley is ripping NBA critics and more Hong Kong supporters protest at NBA pre-season games.

A tweet supporting Hong Kong democracy protesters a week ago by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey prompted China to suspend sponsor deals with the club and cancel plans to televise two NBA pre-season games nationwide.

Issues of free speech, and fears of compromising it in exchange for access to 1.4 billion Chinese consumers and lucrative sponsorship deals, have taken center stage.

Curry, who makes regular trips to China for business deals, sees the issues not only about growing the league and sport but also about the impact on people in China and elsewhere.

"It's an interesting situation because there's so much history involved in it. I don't know that history well enough to speak on it or form an opinion yet. I'm staying tuned like everybody else," Curry said.

"Something this big, that involves the entire landscape of the league, the importance of a country like China, that's something you're not just walking into lightheartedly saying stuff off the cuff.

"This situation has a huge weight and gravity to it."

Curry said it was important to study and learn details from all perspectives to make informed opinions.

"We understand this is a business," he said. "It's about growing the game not only domestically but internationally and the opportunity that's out there across many countries, including China.

"So this is going to affect people and we're going to have to figure out how you walk in the future and what this means. At this point there's nothing really to go on. It's really fluid."

- 'Idiots, jackasses and fools' -

Former NBA star Barkley has made up his mind, however, ripping critics of the NBA dealing with China despite human rights issues.

"They have got billions of dollars at stake," Barkley told Turner Sports. "It's a business decision and I understand the NBA. The players and the owners both have have got billions of dollars at stake.

Barkley rebuked those who want "the moral high ground" over the NBA's conduct while former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who began kneeling protests over racial injustice and social issues, has been unable to find work in a league with plenty of injured quarterbacks.

"All these idiots and jackasses and fools on radio and television are the same people who have been hating on Colin Kaepernick for the last few years," Barkley said.

"Now, all the sudden you want to control what happens in a foreign country. Give me a break.

"I find it funny everybody wants the players to take a stand when it's not your billions of dollars. It's easy for somebody to take a stand when they don't have any skin in the game."

US President Donald Trump, whom Curry has criticized in the past, lashed out at Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who like Curry wanted to learn more before commenting. Trump considered that a weak response on the NBA-China matter compared to Kerr's past criticism of Trump.

Trump said Kerr, a five-time NBA champion player and three-time NBA champion coach, was "like a little boy, he was so scared to be even answering the question... He didn't know how to answer the question, and yet he'll talk about the United States very badly."

Curry joked: "I've got to welcome Steve to the club. That's par for the course right there. It's weird, 'cause I figured he'd have better things to do with his time at this point."

- More protesters at US games -

Protesters supporting Hong Kong freedom, meanwhile, showed up inside and outside the arena as the NBA's Washington Wizards defeated China's Guangzhou Lions 137-98 in a pre-season game Wednesday in the US capital's Chinatown neighborhood.

Protesters handed out "Free Hong Kong" T-shirts and displayed such signs as "Memo to the NBA: Principles over profit. No censorship. USA loves Hong Kong" and "The NBA bows to murderers in Beijing. Stand with Hong Kong."

There were minor disruptions inside the arena. After the Chinese national anthem was played, one ticket buyer yelled: "Freedom of expression. Freedom of speech. Free Hong Kong."

Security escorted out a spectator who refused to surrender a "Free Tibet" sign. The Wizards said that while building security staff removed signs as part of arena policy, no spectators were asked to leave.