A man says he and his wife were kicked out of a Tuesday night Philadelphia 76ers pre-season exhibition game against the Chinese Guangzhou Loong-Lions basketball team after the couple waved signs in support of Hong Kong.
Sam Wachs and his wife attended the “Sixers” home game at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, along with signs bearing the message “Free Hong Kong” and “Free HK.” Wachs told NBC10 he lived in Hong Kong for two years and supports the ongoing protests against increased Chinese control over the city.
The pro-Hong Kong posters reportedly saw Wachs and his wife escorted out of the game.
A video of moments leading up to the ejection was also posted to Twitter.
— Christie Ileto (@Christie_Ileto) October 9, 2019
“We were just sitting in our seats near the Chinese bench,” Wachs said.
“We were saying, ‘Free Hong Kong,” he later told NBC10. “What’s wrong with that?”
The NBA team reportedly did not respond to NBC10’s requests for a comment on the incident.
It remains unclear why the signs warranted removal from the game, though the pro-Hong Kong message appeared amid a public relations incident between the basketball league and the People’s Republic of China.
Last Thursday, Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong.”
Taking concern at the offense caused to both Chinese basketball fans and the Chinese government, Morey deleted his tweet in support of Hong Kong protesters who have held over four months of demonstrations against a bill that would extradite its citizens to mainland China for criminal proceedings.
The NBA apologized for offending China, calling Morey’s comments “regrettable” and drawing distance between those comments and both the Rockets team and the basketball league as a whole.
NEW: the NBA has released a statement on Daryl Morey: pic.twitter.com/FOI79W31b1
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James Harden, a star player for the Rockets, also came forward to apologize on his team’s behalf and said, “we love China.”
Despite the efforts to smooth over the offending remarks, Chinese advertisers reportedly pulled advertising support from the Rockets while broadcasters in the country removed the team’s games from their broadcast schedule.
While the NBA attempted to repair their relationship with China, their apologetic remarks stirred further backlash in the U.S.
On Monday, several U.S. politicians criticized the NBA’s messaging, accusing the league of focusing on money and business interests at the expense of ignoring abuses by the Chinese government during the ongoing Hong Kong protests.
The long-running satirical “South Park” cartoon also mocked the NBA’s apology on Monday and doubled down on previous criticism’s the cartoon show made against Chinese censorship.