A couple attending a Philadelphia 76ers basketball game against the Chinese team Guangzhou Loong Lions were ejected from the stadium on Tuesday night after holding signs and shouting support for Hong Kong.
Sam Wachs and his wife attended the game at the Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday evening, where they held signs that read “Free Hong Kong.” Security quickly confiscated their signs and asked them to leave the stadium, at which point they started yelling that same slogan.
“There’s no foul language, no politics.’ I asked ‘Why not?’ They said, ‘Don’t give me a hard time,’” Wachs told Action News. “I think it’s shameful, harsh reaction.”
The incident comes days after the NBA rebuked Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey for a declaration of support for the pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong, forcing him to delete his tweet and issuing a statement claiming it was left “extremely disappointed by the inappropriate comment” as he had “seriously hurt the feelings of Chinese fans.”
— Clay Travis (@ClayTravis) October 7, 2019
The NBA’s response triggered a major public backlash. Critics pointed to China’s appalling human rights record and restrictions on freedom of expression.
In an attempt at damage control, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver came out with another statement hailing the importance of freedom of speech.
“I think as a values-based organization that I want to make it clear … that Daryl Morey is supported in terms of his ability to exercise his freedom of expression,” he said. “What I also tried to suggest is that I understand there are consequences from his freedom of speech, and we will have to live with those consequences.”
Silver admitted that the incident had severely impacted the NBA’s reputation and standing with the Chinese Communist Party, leading to a considerable loss of earnings.
“There is no doubt, the economic impact is already clear,” Silver told Kyodo News in Japan. “There have already been fairly dramatic consequences from that tweet, and I have read some of the media suggesting that we are not supporting Daryl Morey, but in fact we have.”
The Chinese state-run television network CCTV said the country remained “strongly dissatisfied” with the NBA’s refusal to explicitly apologize. As a result, Chinese authorities have stopped broadcasting NBA games while removing all the organization’s promotional material.
“We’re strongly dissatisfied and oppose Adam Silver’s claim to support Morey’s right to freedom of expression,” CCTV said in a statement. “We believe that any remarks that challenge national sovereignty and social stability are not within the scope of freedom of speech.”