Cruz says it was "really sad to see" NBA bend to pressure from China

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Wearing all-black in a show of solidarity to pro-democracy protesters, Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas continued his strong criticism of the NBA's apparent attempts to balance support for free speech while safeguarding its financial ties to the lucrative Chinese television market.

"What ended up happening is the NBA as a league began this series of apologies, and it was really sad to see an American company and indeed a global sports league like the NBA being dragooned into censoring the free speech of American citizens in the interest of big bucks," Cruz, an avid basketball fan, told "Face the Nation" Sunday from Hong Kong, where he was visiting. 

The NBA became embroiled in controversy after the general manager of the Houston Rockets — a team with a large Chinese following that was once the team of Yao Ming, the country's most famous player and now head of the basketball federation there — posted a tweet in support of the movement in Hong Kong that for weeks has protested against Beijing's attempts to exert more control over the financial hub.

The tweet prompted the government-run television agency in China to suspend NBA broadcasts. When the league first issued a statement expressing regret to those who had been "offended" by the tweet, a chorus of critics, including both Republican and Democrats in Congress, accused the NBA of succumbing to financial pressure from the authoritarian government in Beijing and failing to protect the free speech rights of an American.

After the outcry in the U.S., the league issued another statement, saying it defended "equality, respect and freedom of expression." But the NBA noted that China and the U.S. had different political systems and beliefs, and highlighted the league's "great affinity" for the Chinese people. 

Cruz admitted the NBA was now doing a "better job" of defending free speech in the wake of the controversy. But the Texas conservative said the league still needed to do more. 

Asked about whether it should be the responsibility of the U.S. government — and not free enterprise — to promote democracy and freedom of expression in China and around the world, Cruz returned his focus to the NBA.  

"American businesses shouldn't be in the business of censoring Americans, and we've seen this pattern, whether it's the NBA afraid of losing a bunch of money in China or whether it's Hollywood censoring out any content that is critical of the communist government in China," he said. "You know, it's really an unfortunate dynamic, how China uses its vast resources to promote censorship."

  • Camilo Montoya-Galvez
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    Camilo Montoya-Galvez is the immigration reporter at CBS News. Based in Washington, he covers immigration policy and politics. Twitter: @camiloreports