Effects of the NBA’s strained relationship with China are being felt in NBA arenas in a pair of games in the United States featuring the Guangzhou Loong Lions of the Chinese Basketball Association.
After the playing of the Chinese national anthem before Guangzhou’s game against the Wizards on Wednesday in Washington, one fan shouted, “Freedom of expression! Freedom of speech! Free Hong Kong!” He then left his seat after he was approached by security.
Other fans shouted for a free Hong Kong from the second level during the second quarter. They then left their seats on their own, according to the Washington Post.
Minutes later, security approached one fan holding up a “Free Tibet” sign and another holding the Tibet flag. Security tried to take the sign, and the fan refused to give it up. Security then escorted them out of their seats.
The Wizards said building security did not ask any fan to leave, but only “removed signs tonight in accordance with Capital One Arena’s long-standing signs, banners, posters and flag policy.”
There were more than a half-dozen protests inside Capital One Arena before the Wizards won 137-98. Other demonstrators, who said they were from Freedom House, held up signs and handed out “Free Hong Kong” T-shirts on the street outside the arena.
The protesters’ signs included: “Shame the NBA,” “South Park was right” and “Memo to the NBA: Principles over profit! No censorship! USA loves Hong Kong.” The “South Park” television show covered Chinese censorship in a recent episode.
A Freedom House spokeswoman said some members were planning to protest inside during the game. A spokeswoman for Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation said the group was planning to hand out T-shirts inside the arena during the game in various sections close to the court.
Wizards coach Scott Brooks said that he only heard the one protester at the end of the national anthem, and he didn’t hear any of his players talk about the protests, nor did he mention them.
A day earlier in Philadelphia, two fans were removed from the stands at Tuesday’s preseason game between Guangzhou and the 76ers after holding up signs that read “Free Hong Kong” and “Free HK.”
The 76ers and the Wells Fargo Center both released statements Wednesday saying that those fans were ejected for a “continuing disruption of the fan experience” and only after multiple complaints about them.
“At last evening’s game, following multiple complaints from guests and verbal confrontations with others in attendance, two individuals were warned by Wells Fargo Center staff about their continuing disruption of the fan experience. Ultimately, the decision was made by Wells Fargo Center personnel to remove the guests from the premises, which was accomplished without incident,” the 76ers said.
Sam Wachs told NBC10 in Philadelphia that security guards confiscated the signs before ejecting him and his wife in the second quarter after Wachs shouted, “Free Hong Kong!”
A source close to the situation told ESPN’s Tim Bontemps that the Sixers were unaware of the incident until after the fans were ejected.
In its statement, the Wells Fargo Center said the fans were given three warnings prior to their removal.
Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, with a since-deleted tweet, showed support last week for anti-government protesters in Hong Kong, straining the relationship between the NBA and China.
The protests in Hong Kong were sparked by a proposed extradition law that would have allowed suspects to be sent to China to face trial. Activists saw that as a threat to the legal rights that Hong Kong residents have under the current “one country, two systems” framework.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.