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 Guangzhou Loong Lions of the Chinese Basketball Association.
After the playing of the Chinese national anthem in Washington on Wednesday before Guangzhou’s game against the Wizards, 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 the seats.
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 those fans were ejected for a “continuing disruption of the fan experience,” and only after receiving 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.