Just moments before the first game of the 2019-2020 NBA season kicked off, NBA legend Shaquille “Shaq” O’Neal publicly defended the Houston Rockets’ general manager, Daryl Morey, who ignited backlash against the NBA from China earlier this month when he tweeted support for pro-democratic protesters.

Speaking on TNT’s pregame show Tuesday night, O’Neal warned no one should be penalized for free speech.

“We, as the American people, do a lot of business with China, and they know and understand our values, and we understand their values. One of the best values here in American is free speech,”the former NBA center said.

“We’re allowed to say what we want to say and we’re allowed to speak up about injustices, and that’s just how it goes,” he continued. “If people don’t understand that, that’s something that they have to deal with.”

Regardless of whether or not you agree with Morey’s opinion, everyone is entitled to freedom of expression, the Basketball Hall of Famer continued.

“I just thought it was unfortunate for both parties and then you have people speaking when they don’t know what they’re talking about,” he said. “But Daryl Morey was right. Whenever you see something wrong going on anywhere in the world, you should have the right to say, ‘That’s not right.’ And that’s what he did. But again, sometimes in business you have to tiptoe around things.”

“They understand our values, we understand their values. And here, we have the right to speak, especially with social media. We’re going to say whatever we want to say whenever we want to say it,” he continued.

Morey drew the ire of Chinese fans and government officials after he declared support for anti-government protests in Hong Kong on Oct. 4.

“Fight for Freedom. Stand With Hong Kong,” he wrote in the now deleted tweet.  

Amid backlash, Morey apologized for any offense, but his support of the protesters resulted in a public relations crisis for the NBA, as its players struggled to navigate the fallout.

The NBA has said Morey will not face any discipline over his tweet, while commissioner Adam Silver claims Beijing requested he fire Morey, an allegation Chinese government officials have denied.

Los Angeles Laker star Lebron James, who famously campaigned with Hillary Clinton in 2016, argued Morey neglected to consider the fall out that would stem from his political statement.  

“So many people could have been harmed, not only financially but physically, emotionally, spiritually,” he told reporters earlier this month. “So just be careful what we tweet and what we say and what we do. Even though, yes, we do have freedom of speech, but there can be a lot of negative that comes with that, too.”

According to ESPN, China state television, which customarily airs the league’s opening night games, has pulled all NBA broadcasts and refused to air the NBA’s opening night games Tuesday.  

After five months of violent demonstrations in Hong Kong, the city’s authorities finally withdrew the extradition bill that ignited the protests.

Secretary for Security John Lee explained the decision to scrap the bill was drawn due to “conflicts in society.” The announcement was made just hours after Chan Tong-kai, a Hong Kong man, was released from prison. Tong-kai was charged with money laundering and suspected of murdering his pregnant girlfriend in Taiwan and then fled to Hong Kong. His case prompted the proposed extradition agreement in June that would transport alleged criminals to mainland China for prosecution. 

Authorities could not bring him back to Hong Kong to stand trial because there was no treaty among Taiwan and Hong Kong, so Hong Kong leaders proposed the extradition law.

Hong Kong’s anti-government activists saw the legislation as an attempt by China to eradicate democratic freedoms and massive pro-democracy demonstrations that have rocked the city since June, proving to be an international embarrassment for communist China.

Tong-kai became a free man on Wednesday, but promised to surrender himself to Taiwan police.

While the extradition bill launched the ongoing protests, the demonstrations have become about more than extradition. Protesters are demanding an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality in suppressing the demonstrations and amnesty of hundreds who were charged with offenses linked to the protests.