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Reporter Shut Down by Official After Asking NBA Stars About Censorship

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The Houston Rockets have apologized to a reporter who was stonewalled and eventually shut down for asking star players James Harden and Russell Westbrook about the NBA’s ongoing China controversy.

A bit of background: Last week, Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted in support of the pro-democracy Hong Kong protesters, who are generally at odds with the government in mainland China.

The NBA, which has a significant fan base — and thus considerable business interests — in China, quickly distanced itself from Morey’s tweet and essentially apologized for him to that country’s communist government.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver eventually issued a follow-up statement defending “freedom of expression” and saying the league “will not put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees and team owners say or will not say” on political issues.

That wasn’t good enough for Chinese state broadcaster CCTV, which said in a statement that “any remarks that challenge national sovereignty and social stability are not within the scope of freedom of speech.”

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In light of these developments, CNN reporter Christina Macfarlane used Thursday’s news conference in Japan, where the Rockets had played an exhibition game, to ask Harden and Westbrook how they now feel speaking up about social issues.

“The NBA has always been a league that prides itself on its players and coaches being able to speak out openly about political and societal affairs,” she said after being handed a microphone. “I just wonder after the events of this week, and the fallout we’ve seen, whether you would both feel differently about speaking out in that way in the future?”

An off-screen Rockets official quickly replied: “Excuse me, we’re taking basketball questions only.”

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Meanwhile, a man wearing a headset reached over and held out his arm, as if indicating that Macfarlane should give the microphone to him.

Macfarlane wasn’t having it.

“It’s a legitimate question,” she said. “This is an event that’s happened this week.”

“It’s been answered,” the team official said. Harden reportedly had apologized to China for Morey’s original tweet.

Macfarlane countered that “this particular question has not been answered.”

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But she wasn’t going to get an answer. The man with the headset reached over to take the mic from her, and this time she handed it to him.

Later Thursday, the NBA released a statement of apology on the matter.

“During today’s Houston Rockets media availability, a team representative inappropriately interjected to prevent CNN’s Christina Macfarlane from receiving an answer to her question. We’ve apologized to Ms. Macfarlane as this was inconsistent with how the NBA conducts media events,” the statement read.

Houston coach Mike D’Antoni wasn’t much more forthcoming than either of his star players when asked about the controversy earlier in the news conference.

“I coach basketball. I’m not a diplomat or around the world. I coach basketball,” he said.

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