NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has said Chinese officials wanted Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey to be fired.
Morey controversially tweeted support for anti-government protesters in Hong Kong.
The league said it emphatically dismissed the Chinese request.
Silver also said the league is already feeling “substantial” financial losses because of the Chinese reaction to Morey’s deleted tweet.
“Obviously, we made clear that we were being asked to fire him by the Chinese government, by the parties we dealt with, government and business,” Silver said during an appearance at the Time 100 Health Summit in New York.
“We said, ‘There’s no chance that’s happening. There’s no chance we’ll even discipline him.’”
But a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman later disputed Silver’s claim that it wanted Morey to be fired.
Geng Shuang said the “Chinese government never posed this requirement”.
The league and LeBron James, one of its biggest stars, has been heavily criticised by some US politicians for the perception that they caved in to the Chinese regime.
Morey has not been rebuked publicly by the league, and Silver has said that the league will support his freedom of expression.
“We wanted to make an absolute clear statement that the values of the NBA, these American values – we are an American business – travel with us wherever we go, and one of those values is free expression,” Silver said.
“We wanted to make sure everyone understood we were supporting free expression.”
The Rockets were of massive interest in China, largely because of Yao Ming – the Chinese star who spent his entire NBA career in Houston. Yao is now the president of the Chinese Basketball Association, which has suspended its ties to the Rockets because of the tweet.
Morey has not commented publicly since a pair of tweets on October 6 attempting to clarify his position.
“I understand there is a point of view from some that we shouldn’t be in business at all in China, and I’d say from an intellectual standpoint, that’s fair – not getting into whether the tweet or the response to it,” Silver said.
Chinese state broadcaster CCTV did not air the two NBA preseason games between the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets last week. Tencent, which has a 1.5 billion dollar deal to stream NBA games in China over the next five years, has also stopped showing Rockets games but has not totally dropped all NBA content.
“The losses have already been substantial,” Silver said. “Our games are not back on the air in China, as we speak, and we’ll see what happens next.”