Former NBA MVP James Harden has insisted that he and his Houston Rockets team-mates "love China" after a social media post by the team's general manager caused uproar in Beijing.
Rockers GM Daryl Morey tweeted an image that read 'Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong', referring to ongoing protests in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.
Despite a subsequent apology from Morey, and statements from Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta and the NBA distancing themselves from the post, Chinese broadcasters have said that they will no longer air Rockets games, while sponsors have cut ties with the team.
"We apologise. You know, we love China, we love playing there," Harden said standing alongside fellow Rockets guard Russell Westbrook.
"For both of us individually, we go there once or twice a year. They show us the most important love.
"We appreciate them as a fan base. We love everything there about them and we appreciate the support that they give us individually and as organisation."
The NBA's said via its official Chinese social media account that it was "extremely disappointed" by Morey's "inappropriate" tweet.
The league's stance has drawn criticism from several notable US political figures, with former presidential candidate Ted Cruz accusing the league of "assisting Chinese communist censorship".
China's SPD bank and sportswear brand Li-Ning have both suspended activities with the Rockets, while state broadcaster CCTV and streaming service Tencent have both said they will stop showing the franchise's games.
Also among those to condemn Morey's tweet was former Rockets center and president of the Chinese Basketball Association, Yao Ming, whose association with Houston had made the franchise one of the NBA's most popular in what is a key market for the league.
Joseph Tsai, owner of the Brooklyn Nets and co-founder of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, has said the damage from Morey's tweet "will take a long time to repair".