Ex-NBA superstar Dwight Howard is now the source of geopolitical strife after calling Taiwan a “country” before being pressured into walking the comments back.
Howard, who currently plays in Taiwan’s professional basketball league for the Taoyuan Leopards and has become a superstar on the island, appeared in a promotional video alongside Vice President William Lai in which he referred to Taiwan as a country, according to CNN. Nationalists in China immediately reacted with fury when the video was released.
Check out @DwightHoward sharing his impression of #Taiwan🇹🇼 with VP @ChingteLai! A country full of warmth, vitality & diversity—why not plan a #FunAndCozy trip & see for yourself?
sᴘᴇɴᴅ ᴀ ɴɪɢʜᴛ @ ᴛᴀɪᴡᴀɴ’s ᴘʀᴇsɪᴅᴇɴᴛɪᴀʟ ᴏғғɪᴄᴇ ʙᴜɪʟᴅɪɴɢ
— 外交部 Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ROC (Taiwan) 🇹🇼 (@MOFA_Taiwan) May 11, 2023
“Since I came to Taiwan, I’ve gained a whole new appreciation of this country. This place makes me feel so much love,” Howard said in the video with Lai, who is the Democratic Progressive Party’s nominee for president in Taiwan’s upcoming elections. The video is part of a promotional campaign for tourists to visit the island and stay at the Presidential Office Building in the capital of Taipei.
“That is crazy! I don’t even know that’s legal in my country or not,” Howard said.
“That’s why Taiwan is a free country,” Lai said in response.
Users on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, demanded Howard apologize, and the hashtag “Howard Taiwan independence” trended, according to CNN. The full video was also censored.
Howard kowtowed to the critics, issuing an apology and blaming the incident on a “communication barrier.” (RELATED: Disney Turned Down Meeting With Uyghur Genocide Victims To Talk China Ties, GOP Reps Claim)
“Where I’m from if I say I wanna go to the country, it doesn’t not mean that place is a country. It’s just how we talk,” he told reporters Friday. “If I offended anyone in China I apologize. It was not my intention to harm anyone with what I said in the commercial. I am not a politician. I don’t want to get involved in any politics… I have the utmost respect for Chinese people and utmost respect for Taiwanese people, so it was never my intent to disrespect nobody.”
Numerous stars in the basketball world, from LeBron James to Philadelphia 76ers General Manager Daryl Morey, have faced backlash in the United States for being overly deferential to Chinese interests. The Chinese market has become a major source of revenue for the NBA in recent years.
Howard has played in Taiwan since November, after capping off an 18-year NBA career featuring eight all-star selections, three defensive player of the year awards and one championship. He most recently played for the Los Angeles Lakers.